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‘Larry Crowne’ sees two of mainstream cinema’s biggest stars come together for only the second time in their careers. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts could easily lay claim to the be the King and Queen of Hollywood, given their long standing box-office appeal and success rate when choosing hit vehicles for their talents. The mystery here is why they should opt to appear in something as weak and ineffectual as ‘Larry Crowne’?
Tom Hanks has no excuse as he not only plays the title role in the film but also directed it and co-wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos (the star of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’) Perhaps Roberts came on board as a favour to Hanks or, maybe, she was feeling low and needed an ego boost which she certainly gets from a script where characters repeatedly comment on how hot she is. The actress has little to fear as she moves into her mid-forties for neither her looks nor her abilities show any sign of fading soon. Her performance in ‘Larry Crowne’ is the movie’s one saving grace.
As Larry, Hanks riffs on a screen persona which will be all too familiar to anyone who knows his previous work. He is the all-American everyman, a gee-shucks innocent at odds with a world which he finds astounding. Larry is no Forrest Gump but his failure to keep up with modern developments has made him a technophobic hick. After a stint as a navy chef, which took him around the globe, Larry spent many years working for the U-Mart chain, a thinly veiled version of that corporate bug bear Wal-Mart.
Larry has worked his way up to team leader but one day his bosses deem him surplus to requirements. His lack of a college education means that he is unable to progress any further and that will simply not do at all. After a fruitless search for new employment, Larry decides to earn himself an education by enrolling on a course in communications. His choice is based on a recommendation that the lessons will change his life but also because the teacher (Roberts) is a bit of a babe.
Mercedes Tainot, the tutor in question, is pretty on the outside but cynical within. She is married to a failed author and keen porn Googler who spends little time knocking out novels and too much effort in knocking out…well, you get the idea. Mercedes has little faith in her own subject and if she can get out of a class due to lack of attendees then she will gladly do so. But then Larry arrives and things are destined to change.
Despite the fact that the communications class seems to consist of little more than giving talks on random subjects in front of his fellow pupils, Larry is inspired. He ditches his gas guzzling car and buys a motor scooter off his neighbour, a yard sale entrepreneur played by Cedric the Entertainer. Then he becomes friends with his fellow pupils, who are mostly several years his junior, before joining the wettest cycle gang ever to hit the road. Larry even takes a second course in economics, at which he excels, given by none other than Star Trek’s Mr Sulu himself, George Takei.
From there it’s a pretty slow and gentle amble through occasionally amusing scenes of whimsy as Larry rediscovers himself. Inevitably, he and Mercedes become close and fall for each other before everything turns out alright and we all go home. The overriding question in my mind as I left the preview theatre was what exactly the point of it all was, other than providing ninety minutes of predictable and bland entertainment.
Perhaps the film represents Hanks’ own frustrations at coming to terms with the texting, twittering LOL madhouse that society has rapidly become. Not just a mid-life crisis but a mid-career crisis for the actor. With today’s comedies becoming more raucous, crass and obsessed with bodily functions, what else can Hanks do but recycle old ideas that have worked for him before and hope for the best? Compared to the output of Judd Apatow et al, ‘Larry Crowne’ is positively quaint.
Tom Hanks’ roles have typically eschewed a belief in the strength of the human spirit and the idea that, despite appearances, most people are warm and cuddly on the inside. Nothing wrong with that, although history has shown that such notions can get you killed in all sorts of unpleasant ways. Now, with the world in a desperate pickle fuelled by terrorism, economic meltdown and the unstoppable ascent of Piers Morgan, it appears that Hanks has a message for us all. ” Don’t give up!“ he shouts from the summit of Mount Showbiz. “There is still hope. “
In times of despair, Hollywood has often adopted a policy of churning out hopefully inspirational tales which, once upon a time, would feature Hanks’ forefathers such as James Stewart or Henry Fonda. If that approach failed, the studios could always bring on a chorus of dancing girls and have a jolly good sing-song. Given the options, I would have much preferred Hanks and Roberts belting out a few show tunes in place of the disappointing effort that is ‘Larry Crowne.’
Director: Tom Hanks
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Julia Roberts, Pam Grier, Rami Malek, Rita Wilson, Taraji P Henson, Tom Hanks, Wilmer Valderrama
Runtime: 98 mins
Cert: 12A (UK)