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Movie Review: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts shine in 'Larry Crowne'

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“Larry Crowne”
Directed by: Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, George Takei
Rated: PG-13

It's amazing that two box-office giants, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, have only worked on one film together in their long careers. That movie was “Charlie Wilson's War.” They were, indeed, in the same film, but they were not romantically linked.

They finally get the chance to get sparks flying in the romantic comedy, “Larry Crowne.”

Hanks stars as the title character and also directed the project. He's now directed eight times, six of which were TV shows or mini-series. His only other big-screen director duties were on the Beatle-era romp, “That Thing You Do.”

Besides starring in and directing “Larry Crowe,” Hanks also co-wrote the screenplay with the (so far) one-hit wonder, Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in the 2002 sleeper hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Hanks' and Vardalos' writing styles are different, and though I could be wrong, I suspect she was responsible for character development and he was responsible for the comedic one liners and dialogue. No matter who wrote what, it's a nice, fun and, at times, endearing  story made all the more enjoyable by the talents and affability of the leading couple. Most of the support characters are loosely sketched, but a few, especially Larry's almost love interest Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), manage to hold their own with the big guns that are Hanks and Roberts.

“Larry Crowne” begins with a pertinent scene that is an everyday sign of the times circa 2011.

Larry works at a big discount retail store (think Best Buy with some Walmart thrown in). In the opening scene, Larry is summoned to the office. Everyone, including Larry, is sure that it's going to be the bosses telling him he's won the employee of the month award yet again.

Instead, he's confronted with a committee of U-Mart bosses who, using their most adept “Catch-22” style logic, explain to Larry that since he is such an exemplary worker and always gives 100 percent, it's not fair for him to be stuck as a mere “sales associate.” No sir, he needs to be promoted to a management position. They have the power to promote him and obviously appreciate his value to the company. The problem is, they can't promote him because he never went to college. Right out of high school, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a cook for 20 years.

Larry's wife divorced him a couple of years back, and he was left with their huge home and a huge mortgage; the balance owed is more than the value of the house. Larry remains fairly cheerful. He sells the house as well as his gas-guzzling SUV. He replaces that with a motor scooter that gets 100 plus miles per gallon. He doesn't care if he looks somewhat silly. (You want silly? You should see me on my scooter. I look like a trained bear at the circus.)

Larry also enrolls in college. One course he takes is Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks, which is taught by Mercedes Tainot. Ms. Tainot  is played by Julia Roberts, who spends the first third of the film with a sour look on her face. She's disillusioned with her job and is married to a husband who spends all day looking at women on the Internet and blogging, which he considers to be a writing gig, even though he doesn't actually get paid to do it. He's not so much abusive to Mercedes, he's just a spoiled little kid trapped in an adult's body.

It's inevitable that Larry and Mercedes will get together. Remember, this is a romantic comedy. Things are thrown off track when Mercedes mistakenly thinks Larry and fellow student, the fetching Talia, are an item. Talia has a boyfriend but enjoys Larry as a friend and wants to help him get “hip.” She changes his wardrobe to include a lot of black and hooks him up with her “scooter gang.” It's a group of young men and women who ride their scooters in a pack. All of the members like Larry and want to help him out.

As the story moves along, Larry and Mercedes patch things up and get on with their romance. “Larry Crowne” features one of the most passionate - and hilarious - kisses ever presented in a film. The audience nearly broke into cheers when it finally ended.

Another class Larry enrolls in is an economics course taught by the ever so pompous Professor Matsutani - played by George “Mr. Sulu” Takei. Matsutani loves the sound of his own voice as much as he loves economics. There are a couple of occasions when he breaks into slow-building, maniacal laughter that is worthy of a cinematic mad scientist.

Larry's Navy days pay off as he lands a job in a local diner. His specialty is French toast.

Hanks is 54, and Roberts is 53. They act like real adults here, and the target demo group are adults. Teens and younger adults will no doubt be somewhat bored as they aren't old and experienced enough to know many of the subtleties of  romantic love. They should stick with films like “There's Something About Mary.”

Despite the fact that many critics are saying “Larry Crowne” is a bit too fluffy and syrupy, I enjoyed it and recommend it as a bit of a pleasant mood lifter in the blazing July heat.[[In-content Ad]]

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