After a summer full of superheroes and explosions, “Larry Crowne” arrives in theaters, giving older audiences a quiet option to all the gun play and high-tech action sequences. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with the latest from Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, it’s a film that is too nice for its own good - a star-powered adult film that tries really hard to be likable, but is ultimately forgettable.
Hanks, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos, plays the title character - a middle-aged man who is seemingly the ideal employee for a Walmart-like retail store where he has worked for a number of years since retiring from the Navy.
When Crowne is downsized due to the lack of a college education, he decides to start over and enroll in the local community college.
This is an interesting and timely premise, especially in light of the current economic situation. But the film’s fatal mistake is that it only scratches the surface, abandoning the potentially intriguing premise for light and whimsical - and I’ll concede somewhat charming - fluff.
Crowne is quickly befriended by Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free-spirited student who is part of a gang that likes to ride around on their scooters. Crowne also becomes attracted to his public speaking teacher, Mercedes (Roberts), a boozing, unhappily married woman who has lost her passion for her profession.
Of course, in a movie such as this, the attraction becomes mutual as Crowne shows Mercedes a reason to be happy again.
There is nothing too disagreeable about where “Crowne” goes, but it still left me cold.
Hanks is such a nice guy, on and off the screen, that it is hard not to root for Crowne. Still, I felt like I never really got to know Crowne and it always felt like I was watching Hanks playing a character and never felt like it was a character being played by Hanks.
The same can be said for Roberts, who seems to be a castoff from last week’s Cameron Diaz comedy, “Bad Teacher.” Her backstory does give the film some of its most authentic moments - Bryan Cranston is very good in the little bit of screen time he has as Mercedes’ sleazy husband. But even his character is softened up and not allowed to be as dark as he could have been.
Cranston is the best in a large supporting cast, with Hanks the director admirably allowing that cast to shine through the trifled mess. I did admire George Takei as Crowne’s economics teacher, but Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Pam Grier and Wilmer Valderrama are all saddled with small roles as bland as the screenplay.
Maybe if Hanks had just directed, or maybe if he had allowed Crowne to be something less than an “aw, shucks” perfect character, then this could have worked.
Instead, this film is the cinematic equivalent of a marshmallow. It’s soft and fluffy, but it leaves you unsatisfied and hungering for more after you consume it.
DVD dandy of the week
Nice is never a word you would use to describe this week’s dandy, “Hobo With a Shotgun” (B-), the insanely violent homage to grindhouse films that makes the previous entry in the genre, “Machete,” look like a Disney film.
Rutger Hauer stars as a drifter who hops off a train and finds himself immersed in a city full of chaos, run by crime bosses, low-life thugs and corrupt cops.
The hobo is befriended by Abby (Molly Dunsworth), a local prostitute looking to get out of town, but the friendship turns deadly when both become the target of the city’s biggest crime boss (Brian Downey) and his two psychopathic sons.
Determined to survive, the hobo seeks justice the only way he knows how - by grabbing a shotgun and emerging as a heroic vigilante.
Written and directed by Jason Eisener, “Hobo” is relentless in its display of violence and mayhem, almost to the point of offensiveness.
Still, there is an underlying tone of dark humor that keeps the film from crossing that line.
Hauer seems to be having a lot of fun, chewing the scenery with reckless abandon. And while the screenplay is riddled with clich/s (the hooker with a heart of gold is so overplayed), there are several brilliant monologues that are actually rather absurd, yet quite poetic.
The film is also rather pleasant to look at, with Eisner splashing primary colors together in a way that makes “Hobo” a rainbow carnage of death and destruction.
“Hobo With a Shotgun” is definitely not for everyone, but for fans of the genre, it is a bloody good time.
“Hobo With a Shotgun” is not rated, but would likely be R or worse, featuring graphic violence, language and sexual situations. It is available on DVD.