Larry Crowne

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ambition of actor-director and co-writer Tom Hanks to create a movie that flies in the face of the toxic cynicism of our times. So the story of fiftyish Larry Crowne (Hanks), divorced, freshly and unfairly (of course) fired, and unsure how to hold to the shifting ground of modern life, would appear to be a good fit. Not so. Hanks couldn't have chosen a leakier vessel on which to launch his ideas. Larry Crowne the man and the movie exist in a parallel universe where pain never truly intrudes. He's befriended by a motorcycle gang whose interests include interior design and makeovers. His sitcom-ready neighbors, Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson, run a nonstop yard sale and buck up Larry when he's down and can't pay his mortgage. Entering community college doesn't throw Larry, a former Navy cook who keeps seeing life as a box of chocolates. Even his public-speaking teacher, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), perpetually hungover and embittered from her lousy marriage to a porn-surfing idiot (Bryan Cranston, the great Breaking Bad star forced to pound one obvious note), can't resist Larry. Soon the patented Roberts smile is hitting the guy full force. And yet the stars spark even less in this situation then they did in Charlie Wilson's War. The screenplay by Hanks and Nia Vardalos (Hanks helped produce her surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding) chooses trite over challenging at every turn. And Hanks, who showed directing chops with his 1996 debut, That Thing You Do!, is way off his game. You can feel him wanting to use Frank Capra as a touchstone. But wishing to craft a new-century Meet John Doe won't make it so. Larry Crowne is more than a missed opportunity. It's alarmingly, depressingly out of touch.

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