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THE MOVIE MASOCHIST: A fanciful realm where stereotypes play

There's a place where people shout too much, fall down a lot, exaggerate their facial expressions to rubbery extremes and do things that real folks would never dream of doing, even under the influence of mind-altering drugs. As a form of shorthand we'll just call this realm "Movieland" because you can find this confounding place only in films - often comedies - that disregard the world we live in and float in a disturbing plane of unreality.

In Movieland people get away with crimes that would land real citizens in jail, they find romance with the most improbable partners and live in large apartments that New York City employees could afford only if they won the lottery. They also experience coincidences that would confound the most dedicated statistician and emerge unscathed from mishaps that leave normal people dead or in traction.

This fantastical place isn't as well charted as Middle-Earth or Narnia, but it's more prevalent and less convincingly rendered. Recent films set in Movieland include "Gigli," "White Girls," "Little Man" and anything starring Martin Lawrence. Even thrillers can be set there - see "Turistas" and "Alone in the Dark."

The newest story to unfold in this mythical realm is "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," an attempted comedy about two Brooklyn firefighters who fake a gay marriage in order to get around some municipal red tape.

Chuck (Adam Sandler) and Larry (Kevin James) are longtime buddies who happen to work in the same station. They've saved each other's lives numerous times, but when big, soft Larry cushions Chuck's fall from a collapsing floor, Chuck feels deeply indebted to his pal.

Meanwhile, recent widower Larry discovers a bureaucratic snag that could prevent his children from receiving life insurance money should he die in the line of duty. His only solution is to get married and have his spouse - someone he can trust - ensure his kids are taken care of. Chuck's indebted to him, so Larry calls in a favor - he and Chuck will register as domestic partners and Chuck will be the beneficiary.

City bureaucrats come snooping around, so before long Chuck and Larry are forced to set up house together and act as if they're a real gay couple. This involves slapping each other on the behind and punching each other in the head, like a same-sex partnership acted out by the Three Stooges.

It's a big sacrifice for Chuck, who enjoys sexually harassing women and then, improbably, bedding them. Because this story is set in Movieland, it establishes Chuck as a ladies' man not by giving him a succession of casual girlfriends but by placing a whole team of Hooters waitresses and an S&M-loving doctor in his bedroom for an evening spank-a-thon.

Larry also has a son whom he fears has gay inclinations. No room for ambiguity here, as in real life; here, young Eric (Cole Morgen) must sing show tunes, wear sequined pajamas, do the splits and sport a Dorothy Hamill-circa-1976 hairstyle. The kid's favorite word is "fabulous."

Worried that they could go to jail for their deception, Larry and Chuck visit a lawyer (Jessica Biel) who, even though she looks about 17, agrees to represent them. Also, she's attracted to boorish Chuck, despite the latter's strenuous gay ruse. She has a passion for gay rights because of her beloved brother, a shrieking stereotype who always appears clad only a pair of tiny, sparkling short-shorts.

Will Larry and Chuck get away with their scam? Will their macho colleagues set aside their deeply ingrained homophobia and offer unconditional acceptance to all gay firefighters? Will the teenage-looking lawyer overlook Chuck's dishonesty and fall for him anyway? Why bother to ask?

As to why "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" managed to be the top-grossing movie on its opening weekend, earning about $34 million and beating even "Harry Potter," that's a question no one can answer, at least in this world. Look to Movieland, where reality is far less rigid.

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I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY

Rated PG-13 for having the world view of a 13-year-old boy.

2 out of 4 stars. Horrible.

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The rating system:

1 star: Lousy

2 stars: Horrible

3 stars: Painful

4 stars: Traumatic

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The Movie Masochist is an emotionally wounded cinephile who lives in the United States. He watches bad movies so you don't have to. Discuss movies, argue with or simply flatter him at jfranklin@mcclatchy.com

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