There is too much Vespa in Larry Crowne. The Italian scooters enjoy an enthusiastic following at the community college where Tom Hanks's fifty-something Navy veteran Larry Crowne enrolls after being fired from his job at a big-box home improvement store. Larry Crowne aims squarely at anyone contemplating a mid-life crisis, but the scooter gang Larry joins is too twee to convey its point. Hanks plays it safe while directing his second film, which he also co-wrote and produced, but pulls a solid performance out of Julia Roberts, who portrays a sassy professor and brings some laughs to this otherwise average comedy.
After years of solid, employee-of-the-month-level work at a Home Depot-esque store, Larry gets fired because he lacks a college degree. With neither a wife nor a family to support, Larry enrolls in community college and starts working at a local diner to keep the lights on. Larry basically is Tom Hanks, or at least the affable everyman Hanks is known for playing. His closest friends are neighbors Lamar and B'Ella (Cedric The Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson), who host an unending yard sale and give Larry a scooter to drive when he can no longer afford his Tahoe. At the school bike rack, Larry meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who invites him to join her and boyfriend Dell (Wilmer Valderrama) and some other students to ride scooters around town for fun.
Larry also takes a few classes at community college, including economics with overly formal Dr. Matsutani (George Takei) and an 8 a.m. public speaking class with Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), an unimpressed cynic whose marriage is crumbling. Mercedes waltzes in on the first day and tells the nine students present that the class will be cancelled without a tenth student. Larry then bursts through the door, and the class continues. Mercedes is the kind of icy, sarcastic character Roberts seems at ease portraying, but her constant ribbing of her sad-sack husband (Bryan Cranston) is kind of pathetic. Hanks plays well with Roberts, and anyone not expecting romantic sparks to fly between their characters has not seen many movies.
Larry Crowne is by no means a bad film, but it takes few risks. It has been 15 years since Hanks directed the similarly wholesome That Thing You Do!, but Larry Crowne is less ambitious. Hanks wrote the script with Nia Vardalos, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, and it initially promises to tackle the recent financial crisis from a personal level. Other than Larry getting laid off, the film skirts this topic and instead focuses on Larry finding himself at community college. Much of the humor skews heavily toward a middle-age audience, but only some of it is successful. Mercedes's recurring spiel about the pronunciation of her last name is dull, as are the numerous scenes were Larry, incapable of texting on the sly, gets his phone confiscated in economics class. Seeing Larry madly type out cliché text lingo is not exactly clever humor, but Larry Crowne milks it repeatedly.
At a breezy 99 minutes, Larry Crowne unspools quickly enough that it never bores. I wish Hanks would have cut down on the scooter-gang montages and dorky blue-collar humor and instead allowed more of his wit to seep into the script. Hanks and Roberts do have chemistry, but it's more friendly than passionate. Roberts is quite the straight-shooter as a sassy speech professor, and it's through her that Larry Crowne achieves its greatest success.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Larry Crowne is nicely detailed, with crisp texture and adequate sharpness. Colors are bright and bold and do not bleed, and skin tones are only a touch orange. Blacks are decently inky, though I noticed some crush, which is especially heavy in a few early scenes. Compression artifacts are present but not terribly offensive, and I noticed no edge enhancement or digital noise reduction. Larry Crowne is not a slick film, but the DVD's transfer is perfectly adequate.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strong, and handles the dialogue, effects and score with ease. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear, and the track includes a fair amount of directional dialogue. Effects are occasionally boisterous, especially during the scooter-gang shots, and these active effects join ambient noise in the rear and surround speakers. The score is rich and appropriately balanced, and the track exhibits strong range. A DVS track is also available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
The extras are led by a reel of deleted scenes (8:05) that add little to the final film. The Making of Larry Crowne (11:24) is a standard EPK-style production featurette, but Fun on Set (10:45) provides some interesting fly-on-the-wall footage of the cast and crew cutting up on set. Apparently, Roberts likes to weave, and the crew calls her out on it big time.
Tom Hanks uses the recent financial crisis as the backdrop for his second directorial project, Larry Crowne. Hanks goes back to school after getting fired from his job at a big-box store, and lets his hair down by joining a scooter gang and texting in class. The film's humor is often pedestrian, but Julia Roberts is great as a feisty professor in an unhappy marriage. Universal's DVD features solid picture and sound and a few decent extras. Rent It.