Most scripts are divided into three acts: The setup, which introduces characters, plot-points, and locales; the confrontation, where both the antagonist and protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses are further examined — complicating the problem at hand — and finally; the resolution, which concludes the aforementioned conflicts. Larry Crowne, a love-story between an ex-Navy serviceman and his lethargic professor that’s co-written (alongside Nia Vardalos), directed, and headlined by Tom Hanks, is a one-act picture — it’s all cutesy build-up. Because, it seems, in the suburbia where the eponymous protagonist resides, there are no problems; it’s a place where the retail business is fun, motorcycle gangs coincide with scooter clubs, and all a man has to do to be successful is run a yearlong yard-sale.
Hanks plays the titular nice guy stuck in a difficult situation. Despite a less-than-luxurious job at a strip-mall and twenty years abroad, he loves his life. He’s won several awards for Employee of the Month and owns a wonderful house. But when U-Mart, formerly a big-box company, downsizes, Crowne is the first to go, for his lack of a college education. “In a way, you’re still Employee of the Month,” Jack Strang (Rob Riggle), one of the higher-ups, tells Larry, as he scarfs down a stale slice of pizza. Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), one of Crowne’s neighbors who makes a living peddling used furniture, suggests community college and, for travel purposes, trades him a scooter in exchange for a flat-screen television (the height of the dramatic tension).
At school, he meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an environmentalist hipster who runs the college’s scooter club (which later formulates to clean up Crowne’s house, give him a new wardrobe, and a fresh haircut). But more importantly, he crosses paths with Miss Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), a professor frustrated with her teaching career (which is going nowhere), and marriage to a sleazy author (Brydon Cranston), who surfs porn when she’s out. And while she’s, at first, disgusted with his dedication to a class that none cares about, the forty-something year-old proves that too many bedtime martinis can be the beginning of a number of unexpected relationships. Cue the scene where Hanks and Roberts gratuitously make-out at Tainot’s doorstep.
Note to self: This isn’t the ’90s; films like Pretty Woman aren’t relevant anymore; Julia Roberts isn’t relevant anymore. Once America’s sweetheart, she’s now known as a home wrecker who treats fans and cast-members like garbage and has no respect for film sets. “A one trick pony,” many call her, scoffing at the fact that she demands top dollar for mediocre performances and recoiling every time she lets loose one of her obnoxious laughs. Understandably, she’s on the top of every man’s ‘most hated’ list. Larry Crowne is no different as the actress makes an already unbelievable pairing all the more so (it doesn’t help that Hanks has a distinct, Tarantino-esque foot fetish).
But it’s really the writing that lets the film down. Vardalos, since her critically-acclaimed debut, has fallen off the wagon, starring in garbage like Cougar Town and My Life in Ruins. The problem with the script is, ironically, the lack of a problem; there is no conflict that drives these characters — they drift around, spewing (somewhat) witty one-liners, without purpose. Crowne is too perfect to be a memorable lead and Hanks’ “do no wrong” shtick becomes increasingly tiresome. At least Cedric the Entertainer lends an idiosyncratic supporting act.
It was Hanks, who on the topic of Larry Crowne, once said that “movies are joyful enterprises.” That’s all fine and dandy, but the actor’s sophomore directorial debut takes it a step further and the result is bland and conventional — predictable from beginning to . . . uhm, end (which the film doesn’t really have). I’d, however, happily see a spinoff featuring Crowne’s self-absorbed Economics teacher, Dr. Matsutani (George Takei). But since that’s highly unlikely, I guess it’s time to make some calls to Universal Pictures.