Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Larry Crowne

Directed by Tom Hanks.
2011. Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Tom Hanks
Julia Roberts
Cedric the Entertainer
Bryan Cranston
George Takei
Pam Grier
Taraji P. Henson

Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Wilmer Valderrama
Rob Riggle
Nia Vardalos

Our story starts with 50-something Larry Crowne (Hanks) losing his job at big-box store U-Mart. It’s an obvious downsizing move but he’s told that since he didn’t go to college he has virtually no chance for advancement within the company and it’s against policy to limit their employees in such a manner. That runs counter to what I’ve seen and experienced. Such people are a gold mine because they become experts at their jobs and the company has a built in excuse for not promoting them. This saves the company money since they don’t have to give that person a raise nor hire and train a new person to take their place, but I digress. With all of his newfound free time since he can’t find a job, Larry does indeed decide to go to college to keep this from happening to him in the future. Once there, he’s encouraged to take Speech 217 because it’s a life-changer. It doesn’t hurt that he’s given a huge hint that the instructor is hot. When he gets there, he agrees she’s hot. She is Mrs. Tainot (Roberts), pronounced Tay-no, she emphasizes. Note the Mrs. Prefix but understand her marriage sucks. We spend a good deal of time in her class.

Lest you go thinking Speech is his only class, we also spend lots of time with Larry in Econ 1, taught by Dr. Matsutani played by George Takei AKA Mr. Sulu. He pimps his book, laughs at his own jokes and confiscates Larry’s cell phone repeatedly. It’s an odd, somewhat creepy but still enjoyable performance. Before he gets to either class, Larry runs into Talia (Raw). She’s young, pretty and vibrant. She’s also capable of overrunning men in mere seconds, bringing to life the term “killing them with kindness.” Almost immediately after meeting Larry she changes everything about him: his wardrobe, his hair, the way his furniture is arranged, even his name. She insists upon calling him Lance because she thinks it fits him better. He’s so smitten, he lets it all happen. We’re told she has this effect on all men.

Most of the movie just trots by without much in the way of joy or pain. When I say trot, I should say prance because it is shamelessly bland. There are some exceptions, of course. We bristle, or at least I did, whenever Talia is busy recreating Larry. It’s like a horror movie with some happy-go-lucky psycho taking over your life. On the other hand, the scenes with Mr. (Cranston) and Mrs. Tainot are much more enjoyable. The story of their deteriorating marriage is an interesting subplot we’re tempted to try and separate from the rest of the movie. Their scenes are funny, melodramatic and infinitely more intriguing than anything else going on. It could possibly have made a nice dark comedy.

Alas, it is not to be. We’re stuck with Larry Crowne as is. It wants to have something deep to say about the economy but doesn’t. It wants to be an enthralling romantic comedy, but isn’t. Larry gets not one, but two “game-winning” moments that are anti-climactic to the point of being boring. Even the plucky neighbor routine is botched. Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson play the happily married couple that lives next door to Larry and makes their living by having a yard sale every single day. Seriously. Ced is supposed to dispense sage advice and make us laugh as he haggles price on everything. Instead, he just says a lot and most of it is unfunny. As he’s running off at the mouth, Ms. Henson just hangs out in the background collecting a paycheck for doing nothing. Good for her, managing to get paid while participating in this mess as little as possible.