Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Movie Monday: "Larry Crowne"

Note: Rhea and I actually went to the movies last night; something about wanting to avoid all the idiots and their traffic jams at any of our various local fireworks displays coupled with the fact that we’ve been promising ourselves a night at the cinema for about six months now.  Would that our acumen for avoiding dopey partiers were as sharp as our ability to pick a decent flick to watch.  To wit:

Ego and star power are amazing things.  The former allows celebrities to create products that would never pass any sort of normal quality control, and the latter allows the resulting faulty projects to not only come to fruition, but also to be marketed and promoted on the grandest scale possible.  Forget about the alleged plot: this is the actual story of Larry Crowne.

From the perspective of the bean counters, it’s easy to see how such an unmitigated disaster of a film gets unleashed upon the public: Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts’ popularity is universal enough to sell tickets to just about anything they attach themselves to, so why should the studio concern itself with quality?  Just count the cash and never mind the fact that the script may as well have been printed on a slice of Swiss cheese that somehow wandered into a game of Chicken Blaster.

Don’t get me wrong: I was hardly expecting Shakespeare from a summer-blockbuster contending romantic comedy.  What I was expecting was something agreeably lightweight, something along the lines of Hanks’ previous outing as writer/director, That Thing You Do, a film that will never exactly be nominated for a screenwriting award, but one that was completely successful within its agreeably modest artistic scope.  This time, Hanks co-wrote with My Big Fat Greek Wedding creator Nia Vardalos; together, the pair managed to turn in a script rife with inconsistencies, poorly developed characters, and a frequently plodding sense of pacing, all smothered in a heaping helping of clich├ęs.

Within the first five minutes, Hanks’ titular character is smarmily downsized from his job at the Wal-Mart, here referred to as “U Mart” assumedly for legal reasons.  According to the store’s smug managers, Crowne is let go after twenty years because he has never attended college, which is hardly a logical reason to be fired from a retail position.  The firing scene itself aspires to humor and poignancy, achieving neither.  By the time Crowne is on his way home to sulk, we still aren’t sure just who this guy is: is he a smart guy who just got derailed along the way?  An underachiever?  A Forrest Gump type of character?  By film’s end, we’re still not sure: his lack of higher education is inadequately explained away by his having been a chef in the Navy for twenty years, a back-story patch-job that does nothing to actually enhance or explain Crowne’s character.  Personally, I found myself still unsure whether or not I actually liked Crowne by the end of the movie, certainly another large script problem for a cute romantic comedy.

Utterly predictably, Larry’s canning leads him to enroll in college, where he drives a scooter, falls in with a wholesomely bad crowd, and gradually falls in love with his Speech professor, Mercedes Tainot (Roberts).  The fact that I just had to double check this character’s name with Wikipedia, despite having seen the film less than twelve hours ago, should tell you all you need to know about how well developed said character is. Surly and bitter from the get-go, Tainot’s paper-thin back-story involves a shiftless, porn-addicted husband, portrayed by Bryan Cranston.  It wasn’t until about half an hour after his introduction that I realized that Cranston’s character was supposed to be a freeloading jerk; at first, I (and the rest of the sparse crowd, judging from their reactions) saw him as a guy who’d been henpecked to the point of surrender, and empathized with him.  In terms of script-writing and character/plot development, this is a fairly resounding failure.  From there, the story proceeds precisely as you’d expect it to, bloated out to one hour and forty minutes’ length by several scenes that blather on long after the audience has gotten the point several times over.  Think of it as the screenwriting equivalent of Hamburger Helper, there to make something mundane more plentiful, but not any higher in quality.

About the only positive thing I can say about Larry Crowne is that is very well acted: Hanks, Roberts and Cranston are all fine performers regardless of their involvement with this turkey, and the supporting cast all tear into their poorly defined roles with true aplomb.  It is unfortunate that this gifted ensemble wasn’t given anything more to sink their teeth into than a script that would never have conceivably passed muster had Hanks’ name and drawing power not been attached to it from go.  Sadly, about the only fun to be had with Larry Crowne is to find yourself watching it with a quick-witted friend in what will inevitably be a mostly empty theater, giving it the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment that it so richly deserves.  However you see it, rest assured that you will be laughing at it, not with.

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