The last time Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts were sharing a screen together, they were engaging in occasional romantic trysts while trying to thwart the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in Charlie Wilson's War. Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Aaron Sorkin, the film's dialogue and "strange but true" story made for entertaining viewing to those that watched it. So when Nichols and Sorkin aren't involved simultaneously in a film, what's the result? Well, the easy answer is Larry Crowne, silly.
Hanks directed the film and co-wrote it with Nia Vardalos (My Life In Ruins). Hanks plays the title character, and Larry Crowne is a former Navy chef that has worked for the last 20 years in retail for the Target-esque Umart. However, Larry finds himself being let go, in part because of a lack of a college education that would make him a shoo-in for a management position if he had it. With the economy being what it is, he abandons his house, tries to sell his SUV (driving a scooter around town) and decides to go back to college, where he eventually runs into Mercedes (Roberts). Mercedes is a teacher in a speech class that is in a loveless marriage to Dean (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), a guy who has published two books and is muddling through a third. Additionally, Mercedes is jaded at this point in her life, looking to cancel any class she has that does not meet attendance requirements. Larry takes her class and is easily the oldest of the bunch. Larry also takes a business class, taught by Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei. Takei's inclusion here is a little odd (one that proves to be symbolic of the casting in the film, but more on that shortly). However, while in the class Larry meets Talia (Gug Mbatha-Raw, Straightheads), a young, attractive woman who helps Larry modernize himself in the clothes he wears and how he approaches life, to say nothing about a possible blooming relationship with Mercedes.
The big problem for me with Larry Crowne lies in the screenplay. Unlike Sorkin's script for Charlie Wilson's, where we know where and what Hanks' character is, in Larry Crowne even he doesn't seem to have much of a footing on it. Putting aside the obvious fact that a guy living by himself in a four bedroom, two and a half bath house may be a candidate for a call from Chris Hansen, Crowne seems to lack an identity through the movie. I get and understand the idea of him fully enveloping himself in a retail position post-military career, as many others have seemed to do. But when Larry goes through this transformation of sorts upon meeting Talia, it's really done more for (and to) hollow laughs than anything else. He doesn't seem to know why he's doing it, so why should I enjoy it? Looking across the aisle at Roberts, while she plays the neglected wife fairly effectively, it's done with such a lack of originality that I was surprised. One could plug in any other romcom performance Roberts has done into this one and not miss a beat whatsoever. Not helping matters is Cranston (a fine actor in his own right) being wasted as the stereotypical bad husband.
And since we're on that topic, the casting of many of the people in this film falls under that category, with the exception of Wilmer Valderrama (That '70s Show), where you're saying "What the hell?" Actors like Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson and Rob Riggle are talented and funny individuals in their own right, but they simply aren't given enough time to showcase their wares in a film that is barely 90 minutes long before the end credits roll. So we're left to watch Hanks and Roberts' interactions on screen, which lack a passion and enthusiasm for Vardalos' material when you contrast it to Sorkin's. To circle back to something I asked earlier (and touching on a larger point that's remained true in my mind), if the people who you're supposed to suspend disbelief for don't have a vested interest in it, why should you?
Ultimately, that leaves Larry Crowne as a disappointing effort. Considering we've seen what the two leads of this film can produce with compelling material, when it's not there, things tend to get a little sideways, and that's what Larry Crowne's story does here.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Universal trots out Larry Crowne in a VC-1 encoded 2.40:1 1080p presentation that is a mixed bag of sorts. While things like the red in Larry's shirt really stand out for how vivid they look, when you look a little closer at facial detail with Hanks and other characters, things appear a bit soft. And in some Roberts shots when she's in the classroom, it's almost like she's the new Barbara Walters, with no detail to speak of in her close-ups. There is some detail to be had in the wider exterior shots outside of Larry's house and when he's riding his scooter, but overall I was expecting a little better from this.
I liked the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track that comes with the film. It's got a fair share of songs from George Harrison to copious amounts of Tom Petty, with the latter sounding really good in the soundstage, with the vocals in the center channel and supporting pieces in the accompanying channels. On the quieter side of things, dialogue is consistent in that channel, and channel panning is evident (such as when a bank officer walks behind Larry early in the film), not to mention directional and ambient sound effects in the rear channels. It was a pleasantly surprising soundtrack, all told.
Not really all that much, which is disappointing. Seven deleted scenes (8:03) don't add much to the overall film, save for an interesting sequence after Larry has been told he's been let go. The "Making Of" featurette (11:23) is cookie-cutter in nature, with the cast discussing the story and characters, what it's like to work with Hanks the director and thoughts on the other cast members. Fairly bland. "Fun on Set" (10:44) is a handheld-shot extra showing Hanks goofing around on set, either to make other crew members laugh or when his wife Rita Wilson surprises him by showing up on set the night of their anniversary. Entertaining and a little topical. The Universal Pocket Blu integration and trailers for various Universal/Focus films round the disc out.
As the final scenes of Larry Crowne unfurled before my eyes, my wife looked over to me and said "NOW I know what was wrong with the movie," which considering the two stars, is an apt way of summing it up. Technically the disc looks subpar but sounds good, but the supplements seem to sum up the nature of the film. The cast seems to sleepwalk through it, or at the very least a dose of apathy was put into the water each morning during shooting, and the story does not help matters. Unless you're a Hanks and/or Roberts completist, I'd skip this and just watch Charlie Wilson's War over and over. At least that has Philip Seymour Hoffman in it.