'Sunshine': Born In Flames, By Kurt Loder

A fiery new space odyssey from director Danny Boyle. Also: "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry."

Danny Boyle's new movie, "Sunshine," has already been discussed at some length on this site; there's not a lot more to add, beyond recommending that you see it. The picture brings a new visual dimension to the sci-fi genre. The space ship on which we travel here is headed not into some vast black void, but toward the sun. Its mission: to deliver a nuclear jolt to that dying star in order to save Earth from descending into terminal winter. The presence of the sun -- which sometimes floods the screen with its roiling, fiery plasma -- triggers a kind of awe in our minds that's different from the dark horrors familiar from other space epics. It bathes the action in a beautiful, frightening light.

The year is 2057, and the ship, the Icarus II, is 55 million miles from Earth as the picture begins. Its mission has already been attempted once before, seven years earlier, by another ship, the Icarus I. That expedition was never heard from again. The Icarus II has a crew of eight, six men and two women, each of them a specialist: a physicist (Cillian Murphy, who narrates the story), a biologist (Michelle Yeoh) and a medical officer (Cliff Curtis), as well as a captain (Hiroyuki Sanada), a pilot (Rose Byrne), a navigator (Benedict Wong), a communications chief (Troy Garity) and an engineer (Chris Evans). Theoretically, these people can survive this desperate mission and make it back to Earth. Realistically, though, they know there'll be no return trip.

Their sensibilities are predictably divergent. The biologist, Corazon, has a centered tranquility -- she tends the ship's "oxygen garden," a capacious enclosure filled with greenery, which also provides food for the crew. But the introspective physicist, Capa, and the abrasive engineer, Mace, rub each other the wrong way, and sometimes come to blows. The medical officer, Searle, closely monitors these sorts of psychological tensions. But Searle is himself experiencing turbulent spiritual epiphanies about the sun to which their ship is drawing ever nearer. Then the Icarus II detects a signal, a distress call, originating from a place far off their course. It's coming from the Icarus I.

"Sunshine" naturally builds upon the stylistic breakthroughs of such earlier films as "Alien" and of course "2001: A Space Odyssey." As in those movies, you know that the crew members here are fated to be picked off one at a time, and before long you realize why: They're not alone. The ominous presence in their midst isn't a slavering monster or a malevolent computer system, however; it's something more resonantly imaginative. The picture stays with you. Some of its imagery -- like a crew member sinking down in surrender to join others who gave up their struggle long ago -- may become a permanent part of your pictorial memory. It's a movie that gorgeously enriches the genre of which it is now a stellar example. (Also see: [article id="1564535"]"Danny Boyle's Space Odyssey, By Kurt Loder."[/article])

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry": Dire Straights

This clueless and brain-deadening tolerance lecture trying to pass as a funny movie brings us the news that -- brace yourself -- gay men are actually okay. In fact, they're just like other people. Except for the gay thing. Which normal guys -- uh, make that other guys -- can easily get past if they'll just grow some sensitivity. And there's a bonus, other guys: Playing gay can get you a ringside seat as Jessica Biel strips down to her underwear. Who knew?

The movie is offensive on several levels, and it's a shock to learn that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who've scripted such wonderful pictures as "Sideways" and "Election," had a hand (along with many others, over many years) in writing this one. It might've been cooked up at a comedy keg party.

Chuck (Adam Sandler) and Larry (Kevin James) are Brooklyn firefighters and best friends. Larry is a widower with two young kids. When he tries to make them the beneficiaries of his life-insurance policy, he's told it can't be done unless he remarries. With no female prospects immediately at hand, Larry decides to apply for one of those "domestic partner" deals that are only available to gay people. And who better to ask to pose as his partner than Chuck?

Chuck is of course the unlikeliest possible candidate for this role. He's not just straight; he's roaringly heterosexual. He orders porn and condoms by the case-load, and can't really tamp his erotic fires unless he beds several women at once. (Preferably women in tiny little shrink-wrap outfits that invite the camera to zoom in on their nether assets when Chuck orders them to bend over real low.)

Nevertheless, after some perfunctory reluctance, Chuck agrees to help Larry out by becoming his "gay" partner. They consult a civil rights lawyer named Alex (Biel), who tells them the most convincing way to pull off this charade would be to actually get married. So they drive up to Canada, that beacon of enlightenment in these matters, and seek out a wedding chapel. Here we are confronted with one of the most deplorable performances in recent memory. The chapel owner who'll be tying Chuck and Larry's knot is a caricature of a Japanese man straight out of burlesque -- bowl haircut, slightly bucked teeth, epicanthic eye folds that appear to be attached with library paste -- and he's played by Rob Schneider. ("Do you have the ling?" he asks Chuck.) This appalling impersonation is just one ethnic step away from black-face minstrelsy, and it's mystifying why a major studio (that would be Universal Pictures) found it to be just fine.

The story stumbles along boobishly, and as Chuck struggles to control his titanic libido in the presence of Alex, who's adopted him as a girl-talk confidante, a number of gay characters naturally crop up. But in order to differentiate them from the straight characters, they're all depicted as prancing queens -- among them a gay shop clerk portrayed by Dave Matthews (!) with a smoldering sissy pout and madly rolling eyes. Even the one he-man closet case in the film (Ving Rhames!) goes all limp-of-wrist the moment he comes out. It's the kind of movie in which, when a firehouse shower room scene comes up, you just know somebody's going to drop the soap.

Director Dennis Dugan ("The Benchwarmers") keeps this wretched exercise moving along, for what that's worth; and because the picture was shot by Dean Semler ("Apocalypto"), it looks much better than it deserves to. Sandler and James put a lot of energy into their performances, but to little effect. The picture is impossibly conflicted: The guy-centric wise-crackery by which it seeks to convey its alleged message is a large part of the problem it pretends to address. While blithely inviting us to laugh at fat people and unattractive older women along the way, the movie purports to chronicle the indignities to which gays are subjected. Naturally, the usual suspects -- Boy Scout leaders, Little League Baseball groups, homophobic evangelicals -- come in for ritual head slaps. But at a key moment toward the end, when a chaste kiss between Chuck and Larry would seem to be required, the picture cravenly chickens out -- none of that stuff here, thank you. (It's as if Sacha Baron Cohen had never bestrode the box office.) The movie is a numbskull insult to gay people. Just on the basis of the mirthless trailer, however, they'll probably ignore it. I doubt they'll be alone.

Check out everything we've got on "Sunshine" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"

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