New on DVD: Larry Crowne (2011)

All Kansas City Public Library locations will close at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 26, and will remain closed all day Thursday, November 27, for Thanksgiving.

How much do we love Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts?

Enough that we'll stick with Larry Crowne, a romantic comedy so slight that it’s hardly even there.

The best you can say about this film (directed by Hanks and co-written by him with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) is that it is pleasantly lightweight. I kind of expected more from a Hanks/Roberts collaboration.

At the film’s outset the titular character (Hanks) is fired from his job at a big box hardware store. The problem, he’s told, is that instead of going to college he signed up with the Navy right out of high school and sailed the seas for 20 years. A lack of higher education has landed him on the company’s dead-end list.

These opening scenes are unsettling as the usually upbeat Larry finds himself facing the loss of his house (he’s already lost his wife in an expensive divorce) and his self-worth. Hanks is quite good at suggesting this rather bland character’s inner turmoil.

So Larry enrolls at the local community college. Among his first classes is a conversational speaking course taught by Mercedes (Roberts), a cynical and most likely alcoholic instructor whose marriage to a porn-scarfing wannabe writer (Bryan Cranston) is circling the drain.

Larry, who has traded in his gas guzzler for an economical motor scooter, is soon adopted by a garrulous coed (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who inducts him into her “gang” of fellow scooter-heads, among them her jealous boyfriend (Wilder Valderrama).

While all this is going on, the hugely friendly Larry and the grumpy Mercedes find themselves becoming an item.

And that’s about as complicated as Larry Crowne gets.

Hanks made an endearing directorial debut 15 years ago with the period rock’n’roll comedy That Thing You Do. But he struggles here with Larry’s reliance on improbable supporting characters and his own waffling on whether to play it for laughs or for feeling.

The cast is packed with underutilized faces (Rob Riggle, Cedric the Entertainer, Taranji P. Henson, Pam Grier, George Takei, Ian Gomez and Rita Wilson aka Mrs. Hanks), but few are on screen long enough to make an impression.

It’s pretty much up to Hanks and Roberts to make this thing work; happily their combined star charisma is enough to gloss over our slowly-dawning recognition that Larry Crowne is about as generic as movies get.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.

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