It might be tough to relate to this if you’re under the legal drinking age, but some of us became disenchanted when Tom Hanks left his natural dorkiness for a post-Philadelphia fight on the Oscar card. I personally mourn that stage of his career almost as much as Meg Ryan’s natural lips. Now two full decades removed from Joe Versus the Volcano, the actor co-writes, directs, and stars in Larry Crowne.
The trailer inspired some hope that it might be a return to young-at-heart “Hanx” (as he’s taken to calling himself on Twitter). What I presumed was closer to the six out of ten range on the Flixist scale comfortably occupied by my assessment of pre-apocalyptic Pixar is actually the most transparently racist, patronizing popcorn exercise in self-abuse I’ve encountered in memory. He doesn’t even do a goofy dance. That’s like if someone made a Terminator sequel without Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oh, wait…
The title character is a polo shirt wearing square. He’s laid off from a Wal-Mart just shy of his tenth Employee of the Month award, which is meant to sound impressive but he’s been there for twenty years. Poor timing, as he’s just bought out his ex-wife’s half of their home resulting in four hundred thousand dollars of debt. The movie solution for making sure this “never happens again” is to enroll in college, so let’s make that five hundred thousand, or six if he transfers to a better school…
Strikingly inconsistent, Larry Crowne is the most personable guy you’d ever meet in your life but his obstacle is confident speech. What? Similar, a film that defines “internet porn” as a Victoria’s Secret catalogue probably should be using the phrase “son of a cock” in one of two scenes featuring a recognizable buddy of Adam Sandler. In the other, Crowne is described as “forever retarded” in his ability to be promoted without an education. Why is a soft-serve, banal attempt at filmmaking the first time these phrases are worked into a PG-13 movie?
The script was written by Nia Verdalos with Hanks for help. Without having seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding I have to assume from this movie that she is to the isolated housewife what Tyler Perry is to blacks. I picture a smug, self satisfied sycophant selling out the crudest aroma of her race: phony wholesomeness in place of personality.
Crowne’s classmates are the lazy black guy, the brainless stoner, the blonde athlete, and the overly-primped Spanish woman. To find a better example of racial stereotyping is to reference the scene from Now, Voyager in which gun-club buddies ask their negro waiter to toss up crackers for them to shoot while drunk, resulting in a ::Golly, I’m in a pickle!:: dance around bullets that could only be more offensive if done in with shoe polish.
And then there’s Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who annoys us more than the rest combined by the sheer logistics of additional screen time. Within seconds of meeting Larry Crowne she extends an invitation to her scooter gang and takes him on as her E! Channel-esque fixer-upper project because God forbid anyone with testicles leave the house without a rainbow silk scarf and cologne.
She openly mocks him by transforming his name to Lance Corona, teases him with flirting despite having a boyfriend, and selflessly instructs her mobile hipster clan to apply feng shui to his furniture. In real life, while Crowne is distracted by a free haircut, they would make off with his vinyl collection. Talia is a cheery sort that could have been a muse if not for the character being written as a total idiot. Her story arc is completed by dropping out of college to open a thrift shop and getting a Chinese tattoo.
“What do men see in irritating free spirits?” I don’t know Julia Roberts, playing the more age-appropriate love interest, why don’t you call up Lyle Lovett and ask him about life after divorce? Roberts plays Mercedes Tainot. She’s teaching Larry’s public speaking class, gradually warming enough to be called “Mercy.” I won’t even approach that irony with a joke. Her first act of a new class is to write the only rule on a chalkboard: “CARE” to which I respond, “BLOW.”
She’s married, but don’t let that peck at you when the inevitable happens between A-list movie stars. Her former beau is a helpless dolt played well by Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston. We’re meant to resent him but honestly, as he’s banging on a sliding porch door screaming “I’m just a man, doing what a man does!” I found him to be the most sympathetic character in the movie. He’s vilified for being a professional blogger, off color humorist, and connoisseur of porn (so it turns out I never had a chance with Pretty Woman). Mercedes has “coped” with this by drowning herself in margaritas, but one ponders how a classical literature name dropping prude became involved with a former science fiction writer to begin with. Maybe it was the nice apartment they live in. He may not contribute to the bills like he used to but I doubt that was paid for by a community college salary.
Other supporting roles over the age of thirty are similarly well played. Pam Grier does wonders with fewer lines than I have fingers on one hand. She refers to the air-headed Talia as a kick-ass feminist and could have lent credibility to that roll by way of mentorship. Rita Wilson is a wonderfully quirky middle-of-an-economic-shitstorm banker. Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson play Crowne’s likable neighbors engaged in a year-round yard sale for those of us let down by our own black neighbors for not living the life of Sanford & Son. Wilmer Valderrama chips in with some well timed deadpan and finally, George Takei as a megalomaniac Economics teacher who wrote his own textbook. The best professors I had in college were either Asian or gay, so it’s nice to see Hollywood combine them to perfection. Sadly, these minor parts are gone too soon and their only purpose is to shine a turd movie.
The most accented feature of this film’s marketing push is the vehicle Larry rides, depicted as being fueled for seven dollars instead of the seventy Crowne pays for his SUV before trading it in, nevermind that a scooter has a smaller tank. As if the film wasn’t deplorable enough on its own, I exited the screening to a moped motorcade pushing Green living and rides around the block. If I hadn’t already been recruited by Tea Party cultists after Atlas Shrugged, I would be stunned.
Larry Crowne takes aim at the state of our union, where people are booted from their careers to claim a new lease, not unlike the NBC television series Community. That show also ditched its early angle on the modern condition in favor of situational humor. The difference is, Community remained funny.
3.35 – Horrendous (3s are terrible in every way possible, and are completely awful. Not even a single scene was mediocre, and the entire cast should be ashamed. It doesn’t matter what your film tastes are, this movie should have never been made. It might be the worst film you’ll ever see in your life.)
Smile for the camera, road fogies.