Could the superstar combination of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts be anything less than magic? Well, yes. Larry Crowne reteams the actors in a romantic comedy, which incidentally is not very romantic, and not really that funny, either. I was ready to embrace any project that has Hanks as star, writer, and director, but sadly, Larry Crowne just isn't very good.
Hanks plays Larry, a happy employee of a big box chain store who finds himself fired due to his lack of college education. He downsizes his life, selling his home and car, and then signs up to be a full-time student at the local community college to safeguard the future of his career. At school, he takes the class of Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), a bored speech professor disillusioned with her job and marriage. Over the course of a semester, Larry makes new friends, becomes a scooter enthusiast, and falls for his lovely teacher. That description sounds delightful, but Larry Crowne falls so short in story, dialogue, and character development that it just comes off as a half-baked vanity project for Hanks. Find out what I mean when you read more.
The movie's humor ranges from stale to nonexistent. There's some potential in supporting characters like Wilmer Valderrama and a couple of Larry's classmates, but no one really gets enough of an opportunity to shine. The spotlight is on Hanks and Roberts, but in Larry's case, his only chance is in his contrived "quirky" mannerisms and catchphrases (stop trying to make "spectac-u-lar" happen, Larry. It's not going to happen). Meanwhile, Mercedes's constant sourpuss rarely gives way to Roberts's million-dollar grin, and she's little more than a depressed woman with a minor drinking problem.
The sluggish story somehow manages to give birth to a relationship between Larry and Mercedes, but it's a completely undeveloped romance. There is hardly any flirtation before the first kiss, and when that kiss does come, it's about as hot as an icebox. The other relationships are equally unbelievable; there's an unrealistic friendship between Larry and a school friend, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and we're supposed to buy that Larry and his speech classmates have bonded by the time the term ends, but those connections just aren't there either.
Without enough comedy or charm to keep it afloat, Larry Crowne is boring. It's hard to dislike anything that so often features Hanks's smiling face, but you can't rely solely on a bankable actor if the rest of the film doesn't cut it.
Photos courtesy of Universal