Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Jim Release date: July 1, 2011 Released by: Universal Studios, Inc.
Counter programming to the animated and action blockbusters Hollywood has to offer is this sanitized, simplistic fish-out-of-water romantic comedy nurtured for about six years by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks.
His Larry Crowne, co-written by Nia Vardalos (whose My Big Fat Greek Wedding he helped produced to a very unexpected windfall), also has his costar of Charlie Wilson's War Julia Roberts (Eat, Pray, Love). What should have been charming, funny, and affecting, unintentionally comes across more as ill-conceived and condescending.
It's been a while since Hanks has directed (of course having more than a hand in producing efforts with colleagues like Steven Spielberg), but this tale of personal reinvention through adult education doesn't have much emotional pull and the chemistry between its A-listers disappoints.
Nonetheless, what will serve as a cinematic analgesic for most of the targeted middle-aged plus crowd will find a certain amount of appeal from Hanks's eponymous affable character and Roberts's disaffected public-speaking teacher Mercedes "Miss" Tainot.
Larry is another of the casualties as seen in films like Up In The Air, The Company Men, and Everything Must Go. His former Navy cook and U-Mart (big-box company's team leader) employee-of-the-month begins anew by signing up for community college. The diligent, likable middle-aged guy is warmly greeted by other students, including openhearted, pretty Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who has aspirations in the world of fashion. Talia dubs him "Lance Corona" as he gets a used scooter in exchanging for his SUV and helps to get a new look.
It seems to help as Miss Tainot, who could easily be a relative of Cameron Diaz's Elizabeth Halsey in the less prefabricated Bad Teacher, doesn't want to be in class especially with a writer-turned-blogger husband (Bryan Cranston of the original TV series Breaking Bad) acting like a character out of an old Judd Apatow flick.
The cocktail-swilling teacher (as Roberts gives the character more of a middle-age look) becomes surprisingly fond of a guy (who gets a job from an old Navy buddy at a diner) with a little goofy streak, at least after his makeover. Yet, the tact of this kind of desire gratification from the spark of this unlikely couple is just indolent enough for the lovable stars to coast on.
One just wished Hanks and Vardalos opted for less middle-of-the road sensibilities and some sort of conflict to touch a little on the reality of recession instead of being anachronistically in a more golden era.
A good supporting cast, besides the fine casting of Mbatha-Raw (Hanks does have an eye for talent potential) is mostly wasted. Cranston, Pam Grier, Taraji P. Henson, and Cedric The Entertainer don't really have much to do; the latter two in a running gag of neighbors' tag sale. George Takei and Wilmer Valderrama are on board for some comic relief especially in reaction shots; the former as a Japanese economics tutor and the latter as Talia's lightly hirsute tattooed boyfriend. Even Mrs. Hanks, Rita Wilson, briefly appears donning a blonde wig.
With Larry Crowne it seems that the honchos easily acquiesced in Hanks doing what he usually does best - playing the ideal everyman. Even an actor of his stature (not one known for his sex appeal) along with an impossible role for Roberts isn't equipped to smooth out its bland, coincidental roughness. This pet project needed a little tough love to become what Greek Wedding definitely wasn't - comfortably harmless forgettable fluff.