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Set in Retrain

MOVIE REVIEW
Larry Crowne (2011)

Larry-crowne-tom-hanks-julia-roberts
Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

The pairing of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts warrants some kind of all-time rom-com classic. “Charlie Wilson’s War” wasn’t it. Unfortunately, neither is “Larry Crowne” — far from it, in fact. Co-written by Mr. Hanks and Nia Vardalos, the new film recalls the most pedestrian, episodic sitcomesque qualities of the latter’s claim to fame, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It just leaves you wondering why Mr. Hanks — who also dons the director’s hat here — couldn’t at least call Nora Ephron in for a rewrite.

Freshly laid off from a Kmartesque big-box store, Mr. Hanks’s title character enrolls in a community college where George Takei lectures on economics and Ms. Roberts teaches public speaking — unlike most other women in academia, the female teaching staff here wear makeup in class. This has the potential to be an inspirational tale, except that Mr. Hanks already overcomes many of his obstacles such as unemployment and foreclosure by midpoint — which leaves the tentative romantic connection still at stake for the remainder. The film falls short as a comedy as well, both in terms of Mr. Hanks’s quasi-midlife-crisis hijinks (such as getting a makeover and joining a scooter gang led by Wilmer Valderrama) and his standard rom-com blunders with Ms. Roberts.

As you would expect, Mr. Hanks is an actor’s director. “Larry Crowne” is well cast and acted down to even the minor roles. While Ms. Roberts is indeed a very good sport, Mr. Hanks has much better chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays his whimsical classmate. Aside from stripping down to his briefs — despite the double chin, the man’s evidently been working out — Mr. Hanks does make the film somewhat worthwhile by nailing the pivotal scene that gives the story its moral. To the film’s credit, it isn’t pure Hollywood escapism that ends with the happily ever after. But with such timely material and a stellar cast, it comes off mostly as a missed opportunity.

LARRY CROWNE

Opens on July 1 in the United States and Britain.

Directed by Tom Hanks; written by Mr. Hanks and Nia Vardalos; director of photography, Philippe Rousselet; edited by Alan Cody; music by James Newton Howard; production design by Victor Kempster; costumes by Albert Wolsky; produced by Mr. Hanks and Gary Goetzman; released by Universal Pictures (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne), Julia Roberts (Mercedes Tainot), Bryan Cranston (Dean Tainot), Cedric the Entertainer (Lamar), Taraji P. Henson (B’Ella), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Talia), Wilmer Valderrama (Dell Gordo), Pam Grier (Frances) and George Takei (Dr. Matsutani).

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