July 13, 2011
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Even Tom Hanks & Julia Roberts can’t sell lightweight rom-com fantasy
Starring Tom Hanks & Julia Roberts
Directed by Tom Hanks
Raged PG-13, 98 min.
Tom Hanks plays a displaced worker who goes back to school and falls in love with his teacher in “Larry Crowne,” which slaps a sunny Hollywood smile on the mean ol’ recessionary blues in a lightweight tale of career reinvention, romantic rejuvenation...and motor scooters.
Hanks, who also wrote and directed, plays the title role, a middle-aged manager unceremoniously axed in the opening scene from his job at a big-box retail store. “Times are tough,” he’s told. Never mind that he’s been there for nearly 20 years, he’s the best employee on the floor, and he truly loves job. Larry’s let go because he doesn’t have a college education and therefore will never be upper-ladder, front-office material.
He unsuccessfully pounds the pavement before enrolling for a couple of classes in a community college, docking his gas-guzzling SUV for a fuel-efficient retro scooter, and falling back on his two decades of kitchen skills in the U.S. Navy for a job as a short-order diner cook.
Julia Roberts plays one of Larry’s instructors, Mercedes, a bit recessed herself, stalled on her academic track and unhappily hitched to an internet-porn-addicted husband (Bryan Cranston from TV’s “Breaking Bad.”)
The supporting characters are played by a solid, pedigreed cast, including George Takei of TV’s original “Star Trek,” Pam Grier, standup comedian Cedric the Entertainer, Hank’s real-life wife, Rita Wilson, and Grace Gummer, whose resemblance to actress mom Meryl Streep is striking. But they’re all mono-dimensional, one-note, sitcom-esque silhouettes, given little to do except provide an ethnically mixed comedic background.
You may feel the inevitable emotional connectivity that eventually brings Larry and Mercedes together, but most of the rest of the story is a real stretch. The whole movie has an overly tweaked, only-in-Hollywood feel, widely distanced from the real world as anyone in the audience will recognize it.
Do you really believe Larry would be taken under wing, on his first day of classes, by a beautiful “scooter chick” (British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from TV’s short-lived series “Undercovers”), or that she and her “gang” would take him on as a personal makeover project? Or that Larry’s kooky classmates seem as real as the “sweat hog” cutups from “Welcome Back, Kotter”?
In the end, even Hanks and Roberts, two of Hollywood’s most likeable mega-stars who are as likeable as ever here, can’t quite sell the rom-com fantasy that “Larry Crowne” wants you to buy--at whatever double-digit price you’re asked to pay at the box office.
Times are tough, and movie tickets are expensive. Sorry, Larry.