December 23, 2011

For as long as I can remember, Tom Hanks has been the reigning champ of the romantic comedy genre.  Oh, sure, upstarts have come along every few years to try and overthrow the dude’s throne, but if you’ve ever seen Splash, Sleepless in Seattle, or Bachelor Party (What?  That’s not a rom-com?  Well, what about the donkey?), you know that Hanks is pretty much undefeatable in these kinda roles:  his everyman likability, his universal demographic appeal, his longstanding reputation as the nicest dude in Hollywood—it all adds up to a rom-com master.  This year’s Larry Crowne, recently released on DVD, will do nothing to tarnish that reputation…but it also won’t do anything to advance it.  Read on for the full review, after the jump.

larry-crowne-movie-image-tom-hanks-julia-roberts-02Here’s the thing about Larry Crowne:  it’s harmless.  As my editing overlords at Collider will almost surely be happy to tell you, I’ve dragged my feet on getting them their Larry Crowne review for weeks now, and that tardiness has everything to do with the film’s lightweight insignificance.  Had Larry Crowne been a complete disaster, I would’ve had reason to jump onto my keyboard and hammer out a scathing review.  Had it been an unexpected surprise, I would’ve rushed to the rooftops to tell all of you to rent or buy this surprise-gem of a rom-com.  But instead, I found Larry Crowne to be one of those increasingly-rare Hollywood creatures:  the movie that doesn’t really make you feel anything one way or another.

As such, I have very, very little to say about Larry Crowne.  At first glance, this makes me think that the filmmakers have failed (after all, what director, writer, or star wants to hear that their latest film was so “barely there” that a film critic could only muster the interest to write up a review for it after several weeks of feet-dragging?  And, OK, yes, the very real possibility that my employment with Collider would be terminated if I opted to just, y’know, not write the review at all), but I don’t think that’s the case.  Larry Crowne is not a failure in what it has set out to do.  But it is almost certainly a failure in what it is not:  exciting, original, or worthy of recommendation.

tom-hanks-wilmer-valderrama-larry-crowne-imageNow, it’s true that I’m not the target demographic for this kind of film, but let’s also recall that—as I mentioned before—Tom Hanks is universally popular across all demographics:  there are few things in this world as cinematically unoffensive as a Tom Hanks film.  In other words, you’d have to be one of those rare “Tom Hanks haters” (this is like being a “Shoe hater” or a “Lamp hater”) to get bothered by a Tom Hanks film.

But I like seeing Hanks in things that push him out of his rom-com comfort zone.  Some of Hanks’ best films are the ones where he’s nothing like his Larry Crowne character—a late-middle-aged dude who’s compelled (for a variety of reasons, mainly financial ones) to return to community college.  Indeed, I dig Hanks most in the films where he subverts his reputation as “Hollywood’s nicest dude” by playing against type, as he did in Road to Perdition (or even slightly against type, as he did in Cast Away, a film I still watch every few months or so).  Can you imagine Hanks as a villain in a Tarantino film?  I’d pay large sums of money to see what that looked like, and I’d be willing to bet that he’d blow us all away in such a role.

But here’s Larry Crowne, where Hanks is playing a variation on the same mild-mannered-but-sometimes-quirky American Male that we’ve seen him play a bajillion times (for fun, I pretended that Larry Crowne was actually Hanks’ character from The Money Pit years after the events of that film, operating under an assumed name and desperate to hide from Shelley Long), and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m “sick” of seeing Hanks play this sort of character, I’m certainly not excited by the prospect any more.

You might’ve heard that Larry Crowne bears a striking resemblance to NBC’s Community back when the film opened, but I’m here to tell you that it’s only partially true:  yes, it features a dude who goes “back to school” amongst the sometimes eccentric students of a somewhat low-rent community college, and yes, unexpected life lessons are learned amidst comedy…but that’s really it.  There’s no absurdist comedy and very few non-sequiturs.  There’s none of the knowing, subversive parodying of geek-friendly TV shows and genre films.  There’s no paintball, and there’s certainly no Annie’s Boobs.  Quite frankly, Larry Crowne doesn’t hold a candle to Community, and comparing the two is an insult to both Dan Harmon’s unfortunately-sidelined NBC series (the best on that network, by the way) and the vanilla blandness that is Larry Crowne.

I could rehash the plot here, but does it really matter?  It’s a rom-com.  All rom-coms—to blatantly steal from and wildly misquote Patton Oswalt—should be titled “Tryin’ to F-ck”, and Larry Crowne is no different.  Larry (Tom Hanks) goes back to school, meets and falls in love with his teacher, Mercedes (Julia Roberts), and learns a thing or two about life from his classmates.  That’s it:  Larry and Mercedes are tryin’ to f-ck.  Will they?  Won’t they?  Find out on this week’s episode of Rom-Com:  The Community College Years.  It’s all “somewhat amusing” and “forgettably enjoyable” and “kinda sorta maybe”, so if you’re looking for something totally inoffensive and harmless to spend 90 minutes or so with (say, something to have on in the background while you enjoy dinner with a significant other, or something to watch with your parents over the Christmas break), it’ll fit the bill for you, I’m sure.

Me, though?  I’ll be waiting on Hanks to take that call from Tarantino.

The DVD comes packaged with all the non-HD video and Dolby Digital Surround you’ve come to expect from that format, along with a handful of deleted scenes (none of which you’ll remember immediately upon watching them), a “Making Of” featurette, and another featurette ominously titled “Fun on Set”, which I’m guessing falls under my mother’s definition of the word “fun” (a behind-the-scenes featurette that shows off Hanks doing blow and beating up hookers:  that’s what I’m waiting for).  Film runs about an hour and forty minutes, and I give it a recommendation as half-hearted as the film itself.

My grade?  C+ if you ask me on a bad day, B- on a good day

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