By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Tom Hanks
STARS Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts
Larry Crowne opens with Tom Hanks' title character taking so much grinning-idiot pleasure in his job at a retail box store (he's even cheerful when wiping a kid's vomit off the mechanical horse out front) that we momentarily suspect the actor has elected to revive Forrest Gump in an unauthorized sequel. But no, Larry Crowne is just that kind of guy jovial, hardworking, uncomplaining which makes it a shocker (at least to him) when he's downsized by a group of corporate caricatures (in a wretched scene played partly for nonexistent laughs) who state that his lack of education makes him expendable in modern-day America.
After failing to land another job, Larry decides to go back to school, only it was a helluva lot more fun when Rodney's Dangerfield's Thornton Melon chose this route 25 years ago. Larry's escapades at the local community college are, like practically everything else in this film, barely perfunctory as narrative and wholly lacking in any sort of dramatic conflict. Positioned as a picture about how it's possible to still succeed in a country that's been destroyed by rising unemployment rates and soaring gasoline prices, Larry Crowne actually has little basis in reality, with Hanks' "don't worry, be happy" protagonist sailing from one existential uptick after another. Larry, only slightly less square than Napoleon Dynamite, catches the eye of the hottest girl at the college (lively Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who of course devotes all her free time to dressing him in hip clothes, straightening up his house, and putt-putting around with him on scooters. He aces his classes, with the other students all gushing over his undeniable genius. And he even cracks the unhappy veneer of one of his teachers, who's miserable because her husband (Bryan Cranston) spends all day looking at naughty photos on the Internet instead of working (this movie is so timid and afraid to offend that he's not even looking at hardcore porn, just big-breasted women in bikinis).
Julia Roberts plays this tortured, hard-drinking instructor, and her character is the one most crippled by the feebleness of the script co-written by Hanks and My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos. The domestic scenes involving her spouse are undeveloped and unconvincing, as is the notion that she's supposed to be an alcoholic educator beaten down by limited opportunities (Bad Teacher's Cameron Diaz was far more believable in this respect). Life only becomes bearable when Larry begins wooing her, beaming at her from his classroom desk and sharing chaste kisses outside her home. Roberts hasn't been given many opportunities these years to show off her talents, and this picture does little to reverse that trend. Like everyone else in Larry Crowne, her character is only on hand to lavish praise on a dullard who hardly deserves having his own motion picture.