“LARRY CROWNE” My rating: C (Opens wide on July 1)
99 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
“Larry Crowne” is so slight a romantic comedy that it’s hardly even there.
It’s not unpleasant. It has moments of lightweight charm.
But given the powerhouse potential of stars Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks (he also directed the film and co-wrote it with Nia Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame), this mildly engaging effort is a major letdown.
At the film’s outset the titular character (Hanks) is fired from his job at a big box hardware store. The problem, he’s told, is that instead of going to college he signed up with the Navy right out of high school and sailed the seas for 20 years. A lack of higher education has landed him on the company’s dead-end list.
So it’s sayonara, Larry.
These opening scenes are unsettling as the usually upbeat Larry finds himself facing the loss of his house (he’s already lost his wife in an expensive divorce) and his self-worth. Hanks is quite good at suggesting this rather bland character’s inner turmoil.
So Larry enrolls at the local community college. Among his first classes is a conversational speaking course taught by Mercedes (Roberts), a cynical and possibly alcoholic instructor whose marriage to a porn-scarfing wannabe writer (Bryan Cranston) is circling the bowl.
Larry, who has traded in his gas guzzler for an economical motor scooter, is soon adopted by a garrulous coed (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who inducts him into her “gang” of fellow scooter-riders, among them her jealous boyfriend (Wilder Valderrama).
While all this is going on, the hugely friendly Larry and the grumpy Mercedes find themselves becoming an item.
And that’s it.
Hanks made an endearing directorial debut 15 years ago with the period rock’n’roll comedy “That Thing You Do.” But he’s outmatched here by “Larry’s”
reliance on improbable supporting characters and his own waffling on whether to play it for laughs or for feeling.
The cast is packed with underutilized faces (Rob Riggle, Cedric the Entertainer, Taranji P. Henson, Pam Grier, George Takei, Ian Gomez and Rita Wilson aka Mrs. Hanks), but few are on screen long enough to make an impression.
It’s pretty much up to Hanks and Roberts to make this thing work; happily their combined star charisma is enough to gloss over our slowly-dawning recognition that “Larry Crowne” is about as middle-of-the-road as movies get.
|Robert W. Butler