Larry Crowne ✮✮

Back to School

by Glenn Lovell

“Larry Crowne” the movie is a lot like Larry Crowne the character ‒ sweet, squeezable, happily out of touch with the world as we know it.

That this film, a romantic-comedy, stars Tom Hanks, a.k.a. Mr. Everyman, and Julia Roberts, Hanks’ co-star in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” shouldn’t surprise. Hanks, like the Gary Cooper of “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” has always exuded an ah-shucks affability. If anything, he’s even more malleable and decent this time around because Hanks the Capra-esque hero has been directed by Hanks the would-be Frank Capra.

Hanks & Roberts: Homework

I must say, the announcement of “A film by Tom Hanks” doesn’t carry quite the cachet of “A film by Paul Thomas Anderson.” Still, you take your entertainment where you can find it these days. And “Larry Crowne,” for all its timewarp sensibilities, is, in the end, disarming in its corniness.

There’s a definite old-fogy vibe here, as Hanks bypasses about 40 years of popular culture to drop “Bambi,” “Star Trek” and “West Side Story” references.

We meet Larry, a fiftyish divorcee, in the appropriately split-screen credit sequence. He’s a scarily efficient clerk at a K-Mart type discount store. Assuming he’s about to be named Employee of the Month for a record eighth time, Larry is instead shown the door for lack of educational background, which, in his manager’s eyes, spells “limited advancement potential.”

As Larry pleads, “Please, please ‒ I cannot be fired!” I flashed on “One Hour Photo” with Robin Williams as the sinister Sy the Photo Guy. But this ‒ darn it! ‒ is not that kind of movie.

Larry’s philosophical neighbor, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), counsels, “Get you some knowledge ‒ you’ll be fireproof.” Easy for Lamar to say: He won the lottery a few years back and now oversees a permanent yard sale.

Larry enrolls in a nearby community college, where he takes classes in speech and economics while working as a short-order cook at a diner owned by a friend. (A word to you would-be screenwriters: Want things to happen quickly in your script? People it with friends, who keep pushing your diffident protagonist forward.)

Roberts plays Mercedes, Larry’s slightly jaded speech teacher who’s married to a stay-at-home jerk (Bryan Cranston) who’s addicted to large breasts but doesn’t seem to have gotten the hang of cyber-porn; George Takei of “Star Trek” appears as the maniacally wild-eyed econ instructor who flogs his own get-rich-quick workbooks and “the Dr. M. Method.” A pretty young newcomer named (irresistibly) Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a fellow student who makes it her mission to make over Larry as one cool, motor-scooter riding dude.

For his long-delayed second directorial stint (does anyone remember “That Thing You Do!” released in 1996?), Hanks has been smart enough to not bite off more than he can chew. “L.C.” is a small, predictable feel-good film that won’t burn up the box office, but will do well enough as a word-of-mouth hit on the VOD circuit.  It was co-written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “My Life in Ruins,” both of which Hanks produced with wife Rita Wilson, who co-stars here as an all-smiles loan officer. Even Hanks’ son, Chet, shows up as a pizza delivery boy.

Yes, it’s one big happy movie family. (I can easily imagine cast and crew breaking for backyard barbecues at Tom and Rita’s.)

Hanks obviously expended most of his energy behind the camera. His Larry is an all-around nice guy, but frightfully dull, maybe an IQ point or two ahead of Cliff Robertson’s Charly. Roberts as usual is vaguely troubled, vaguely neurotic. Her signature cackle-laugh is dialed to “medium-high.” The two make a good couple … of friends. There’s no real spark between them. But no matter. The brewing love affair between the teacher and the cook is Disney chaste. In fact, when it comes time for Larry and Mercedes to duck into the bedroom, Hank the director lingers at the door or discreetly turns away.

Not surprising in a film that feels like it’s from another era, one that would pooh-pooh Smart-phones, Google’d homework, and Internet sex.

LARRY CROWNE ✮✮ With Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, George Takei. Directed by Hanks; scripted by Hanks, Nia Vardalo. 99 min. PG-13 (for slight profanity, adult situations)

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