Rating: 2 stars out of 5
If every movie that Tom Hanks has ever been in were pudding, it'd be warm vanilla. But instead of being served cold and somewhat firm, it’s the kind that’s tepid and a little bit bland. Then there’s also the other issue of the man earning himself a lifetime pass for all the classics he’s contributed since 1980: Toy Story, Philadelphia, Big and Road to Perdition, just to name a few.
In Larry Crowne, Hanks, along with co-writer Nia Vardolos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) injects the same easy-going vibe he managed so effortlessly in That Thing You Do! - the first film he directed and wrote. Yet there’s something unsettling about the earnest but empty charm of the film; Hanks takes an overly simplistic view of his cinematic world, and imbues his characters with the same naïve mind-sets. And it’s this complete lack of emotional conflict that makes the film quite tedious to watch.
Hanks stars in the titular role of Crowne, a 20-year veteran of the Navy, where he served as a cook before retiring and taking up a position in retail sales. In typical Hanks fashion, Crowne approaches his job with vigorous zeal, but is nonetheless laid off because he doesn’t have a college education. His neighbour and best friend (a mildly funny Cedric the Entertainer) convinces him to go back to school and Larry decides to sign up at a local community college. That’s not before bartering for a scooter, which quickly earns him a friendship with free-spirited classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who in turn helps him on the road to a lifetime of happiness.
Part of Larry’s curriculum includes a speech course taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), a cynical (in a light, frothy way of course) teacher also dealing with a good-for-nothing, aspiring-author husband (Brian Cranston in his element) who sits around all day watching internet porn instead of writing his book. As the story rolls along, Larry slowly but surely bands with his class of colourful personalities and Mercedes finds herself falling for Larry. Although we don’t really see how their relationship develops and their chemistry comes across more platonic than romantic. You’re sort of forced to believe it, simply because he’s Tom Hanks and she’s Julia Roberts.
The rest of the cast is wonderfully likeable. Emmy award-winning Cranston is quite hilarious playing a horny jerk, as is Bob Stephenson’s deadpan comedic style and Grace Gummel’s (also Meryl Streep’s daughter) pasta speech. Even notorious Wilmer Valderrama, playing Talia’s over protective boyfriend, seems to have retained much of his That 70s Show’s awkward humour.
In addition there’s George Takei of Star Trek fame supplying more laughs as a straight-laced, meticulous Economics professor. For years, Roberts’ appeal has remained debatable – some find her wide smile and overall girl-next-door allure infectious, others want to keep her away from small children. In Larry Crowne, she doesn’t deviate too far from her role in last year’s stinker Eat Pray Love, and basically coasts along by flipping her perfect brunette curls, acting drunk and flashing that signature grin. Hanks, being Hanks, brings sparkle to an otherwise rather sluggish script. Though ultimately, the movie feels like it’s sinking under its own affable charm, cruising on the general likability of its cast, director and weak aphorisms.
Larry Crowne dallies around for an hour and a half or so and eventually comes to a sputtering halt, never finding friction in its characters or giving the audience any real satisfaction. It’s like Forest Gump Lite, where you know all you’re going to get is a box of cheap chocolates.