Review: “Larry Crowne” Flunks

You know what's hilarious? Getting fired, realizing you have almost no marketable skills, having to enroll in junior college when middle aged, losing your home and being forced to declare bankruptcy thanks to a nasty divorce and even nastier economic climate.

What? Not funny, you say? Tell that to Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos because that's precisely the territory they're mining for laughs in the new "comedy," "Larry Crowne."

Hanks stars, directs and co-wrote this tale of a middle-aged man in crisis, born anew after he loses everything. Jumping on the back of his freewheelin' scooter of reinvention is Julia Roberts as a sullen, hard-drinking community college professor of public speaking promised to "change his life." She’s world-weary and bitter, he’s hopeful despite his circumstance and, gasp, if you can believe it, the pair fall in love along the way to bettering each other.

As much as we enjoy Hanks and believe in the magic of Roberts, their previous teaming, "Charlie Wilson's War," was an exercise in patience, but "Larry Crowne" is an even shoddier fall from grace with the blame landing squarely on one person: the script’s co-writer Vardalos.

We never understood the fervor around "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and Vardalos' most recent efforts, "My Life in Ruins" and "I Hate Valentine's Day" were atrocious. Painfully, "Larry Crowne" reeks of her.

Feeling like a second-rate sitcom which would've been cancelled long before it logged the film's 90 minute running time (which stretches longer than Hanks' slow, gratuitous pan shots of Roberts' legs), the film is eager to the point of grating and missing only a canned laugh track. While Hanks does his best to coax meaningful performances from his leads, there's no escaping leaden dialogue and a middling plot that leaves those actors little hope of salvaging their sinking shop. In fact, if the female lead weren't played by a movie star as charismatic as Roberts, her character could quickly be written off as a drunken, unlikeable shrew, giving this rom-com nowhere to go.

Rather than follow this nails-on-the-chalkboard attempt at comedy, why not amuse yourself by pondering questions like: Are Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson, who appear as Larry's neighbors, really acting out a discarded "Sanford and Sons" spec script? Why is Bryan Cranston, in a cameo as Roberts' lame duck husband, accused of being a porn addict for surfing rather innocuous 1980s bathing suit photo galleries? Why doesn't George Takei—who plays Larry’' economics professor and is one of the few shining lights in the film—work more often? What are Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) and Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) doing in this movie?

Like every other terrible film that Vardalos has made us suffer through, "Larry Crowne" fails primarily because of a script where everyone is eccentric, but no one is interesting. Looks like someone needs go back to school.

"Larry Crowne" opens July 1.

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