Rating: ★★☆☆☆

It’s doubtful that we’re ever going to tire of seeing Tom Hanks on-screen; after all, in recent years he’s opted for more behind-the-scenes and voice-orientated roles, and so any reappearance in a starring role is generally a welcome one. Larry Crowne, which Hanks co-wrote, while well-intentioned and refreshingly family-friendly, also suffers from being so keenly inoffensive that it in fact turns out to be punishingly dull and depressing low on laughs.

Hanks plays the titular Crowne, a dedicated outlet store employee who is shocked to lose his job as a result of not having a college education. Enrolling in a community college course, Crowne soon falls in with a gang of scooter enthusiasts, led by chirpy student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and slowly builds up a rapport with his depressed, possibly alcoholic teacher, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), which might just lead to something more…

Crowne is a difficult film to despise outright, simply because it features two likeable leads and the film is brisk and – at 99 minutes – to the point. However, with actors this talented, and a decent enough premise – somewhat reminiscent of the little-seen Will Ferrell indie Everything Must Go – the film should be funnier and more dramatically resonant than it is. Hanks, now in his mid-fifties and low on meaty roles outside of his brilliant work on Toy Story, seems positively game for the challenge, yet a lackluster screenplay denies him the agency to forge a memorable middle-aged character here.

Dramatic impotence can be forgivable if the film generates even just a few sly laughs, yet Larry Crowne’s gag hit-rate is crushingly low; more disquieting is that, in fact, it doesn’t even swing and miss, taking few chances to reach for a brazen jibe or cheeky bit of parlance between its two leads. Mostly, the film seems keen to coast on two attractive, likeable people working through their individual life issues, while very occasionally stretching for a pun or cute remark which inspires, at most, perhaps a smile.

A few inspired casting choices do help round things out – Cedric the Entertainer at least vaguely lives up to his name for once as an eccentric neighbor to Hanks, Bryan Cranston plays Mercedes’ porn-addicted, new media douche husband with flair, and George Takei is a hoot as Crowne’s studious economics professor – but they’re not enough to give the film more than a passing flash of personality. Counter-productive to any good work here is the inclusion of some less likeable supporting characters; Mbatha-Raw’s Talia, along with her gang of hipster scooter riders, are annoyingly chirpy and achingly self-conscious to the point of tedium (though the film at least makes good on drawing attention to this). That they even decide to hang out with Crowne feels like them fulfilling some sort of need to be ironic…

Perhaps the biggest obstacle over its lack of humour and dramatic indifference is that, as a love story, it is resolutely unfulfilling. While we all know that, yes Hanks and Roberts will get their grand moment at the end to profess their love, it is a moment unearned by the proceeding 90 minutes; though the film refreshingly doesn’t rush through the motions of their acquaintance, neither does it convincingly push the two together into any situations that they would believably get together. It’s a full hour before the buttons are really pressed at all, and unfussily, things come together in the final reel without any sense of struggle or passion. Perhaps the film is trying to reject that archetypal need for rom-coms to treat every love story like a battle, but this approach simply isn’t very entertaining or emotionally rewarding.

Hanks and Roberts clearly seem up for a work-out, but this dull rom-com holds any potential chemistry at the mercy of poor jokes, a meandering plot and unlikeable supporting characters.

Larry Crowne is in theatres now.

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This article was first posted on July 4, 2011