Review: Larry Crowne

(We give it a C+)

Review in a Hurry: Not the head of the class. Tom  Hanks plays the titular middle-aged college student who’s hot for  his burned-out teacher (Julia  Roberts). Mildly amusing Larry gets a pass because of its  likable leads but earns low marks for the flimsy plot and undercooked  romance.

The Bigger Picture: In addition to starring, co-producing,  and co-scripting, Hanks takes the directorial reins for the first time since his  1996 debut, That Thing You Do! This go-round, that thing he  does is less successful. Uneven in tone and pacing, Larry suffers from  an identity crisis, unsure whether it’s a wacky, back-to-school comedy or a  bittersweet portrait of two lost souls at the crossroads.

Affable divorcé Larry (Hanks) gets fired from his managerial job for lacking  a higher-ed degree, so he enrolls at a community college to improve his  prospects. He also swaps his gas-guzzling SUV for a scooter, which attracts the  attention of classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). This pretty  sparkplug and her hipster pals inexplicably welcome nerdy Larry into their  motorbike “gang,” making over his clothes/hair/apartment in the process, and  giving him a “cool” nickname.

This annoys Larry’s embittered speech teacher Mercedes Tainot (Roberts,  looking flawless, though her character drinks heavily and doesn’t exercise).  Down on men since discovering her husband’s porn addiction, she wrongly assumes  Larry is schtupping decades-younger Talia.

That misunderstanding is the main complication in this meandering romance,  which makes a weak case for Larry and Mercedes to end up together—except, ya  know, it’s Mr. Nice Guy and Ms. Mona Lisa Smile. Their one, fairly innocuous  drunken encounter isn’t reason enough to cheer their unlikely pairing or believe  Mercedes’ transformation.

The pic hits sympathetic notes in recession-era situations and wrings a few  laughs from the classroom—notably Star Trek‘s George Takei as a  manic, cell-phone-snatching prof. But characters get painted in broad strokes  when we want more substantive details. Larry’s divorce goes unexplored, Mercedes  too easily dumps her hubby, and friends/neighbours are only sit-commy  sidekicks.

In the end, Larry is like that class you can ditch without missing  much.

The 180—a Second Opinion: The cast is more eclectic than  most, with co-stars Cedric  the Entertainer, Pam  Grier, Bryan Cranston, Wilmer  Valderrama (seriously?), and the underused Taraji P.  Henson.