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Harsh words for ‘Larry Crowne’: A Hanks film set in hard times

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POSTED June 30, 2011 11:59 p.m.

Tom Hanks is the quintessential Hollywood Nice Guy. Even when he plays a gangster, he’s a very nice gangster. And that’s why audiences flock to see his movies.

One would think this state of affairs might motivate the man to occasionally embrace projects where he’s isn’t so easily pigeonholed.

Larry Crowne, a romantic dram-edy in which Hanks stars, directs, and co-wrote, isn’t it.

Aside from Forrest Gump, its Hank’s most affable role ever. Almost an homage to the average guy positivity Hanks does so well, his good-naturedness in the face of EVERYTHING comes off as naive instead of endearing. Larry Crowne, (the film and the man) is so bland it should be a dietary staple for anyone suffering from gastritis.

Despite years of dedicated service to a big box company, the film opens with Larry the victim of downsizing. He may have earned “Employee of the Month” more times than his co-workers, but his lack of a college degree leaves him vulnerable to the recession.

Now with too much free time and staring at a life showing little similarity to the one he envisioned, Larry begins taking classes at a nearby community college. There he is befriended by Talia, a young carefree spirit played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who invites him to join her scooter-riding pack of misfits. She gives him a new do, breaks his habit of shopping at Nerds-R-Us, and flirts with him beyond credible reason.

Before you can say “Daddy” issues, the film pushes Talia into the background to make way for the Pretty Woman herself, Julia Roberts, cast as one of Larry’s instructors.

Like Larry, Mercedes too feels unwanted. Not only are her classes often canceled due to lack of interest, but her husband (Bryan Cranston) would rather oogle Internet porn than spend any non-virtual time with her. Through the good-natured Larry, Mercedes gets her groove back.

This is the second cinematic pairing for Julia and Tom after Charlie Wilson’s War, and frankly, they should have left well enough alone. Their romance springs more from plot devices than actual chemistry, and one yearns for his pairings with Meg Ryan.

As a director, Hanks has yet to develop a personal style to match his acting, but even in that capacity he’s running here on auto pilot. Juggling so many roles at once, might be too much for him to handle.

In more skilled hands, Crowne could have been a pithy, insightful portrait of a man facing the realities of the recession and its effects on his self-worth. Instead Larry Crowne is a light trifle at best.

Harsh words, yes, but hard times as well.

1 1/2 stars out of 4

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