At first, I had high hopes for Larry Crowne.
Finally, finally -- amidst all the comic book fare, Hollywood was giving us a movie for and about adults.
And though I've never understood all the fuss about Julia Roberts -- like a few other current female stars I could name, she seems more notable for her celebrity than for the enduring quality of her movies -- still I knew she could be appealing in the right vehicle.
And I've always admired Tom Hanks for his blend of folksy appeal and pure acting talent. And the list of quality films he's made over the years does command respect.
Then -- warning signals. First, I noted Hanks was not only the star, but also the producer and writer. Uh- oh.
When I saw "producer", I said to myself, the only reason a movie like this is even coming out of Hollywood is that Hanks is behind it. Only he's got the money and clout to make this happen.
More troubling was the screenwriter credit.
The reason most actors become actors is that they have a particular gift for animating words, emotions and attitudes conceived by other people. What they do- creating flesh and blood characters from the inside out- is a big deal on its own- a feat very few can pull off.
Conceiving plots, characters and dialogue on the written page is an equally challenging but really quite different discipline; that's why few great actors are also consistently outstanding screenwriters. Tom Hanks has done some respectable work in the writing arena, but in quality terms, there's nothing even close to the best of his acting projects.
And "Larry Crowne" does nothing to change the score. Perhaps even more than "The Hangover Part 2" and "Green Lantern", the movie in fact serves as an object lesson for everything lacking in Hollywood entertainment these days.
Doubtless -- the idea of a middle aged man laid off from his job and deciding to go back to school seemed timely given all the real Larry Crownes out there losing jobs they may have held for years.
Unfortunately the speed with which Larry adjusts to unemployment and starts on his promising new path seems so artificial that it will probably offend many jobless Americans of a certain age facing a much grimmer reality.
In this Hollywood shows itself to be inside its own protective plastic bubble, seemingly as clueless to the actual suffering going on in America as Washington is so often accused of being.
Thus a really intriguing notion of one man's forced transformation gets the Hollywood treatment, and we are left with a cloying, sanitized comedy/romance that strains for laughs and effect.
And this particular grown-up feels once again that his intelligence (such as it is) has been insulted.
In the past, some dissenting readers have told me that I do not understand the mindset of today's average movie viewer. It seems that most people don't want original, intelligent stories, clever scripts, and three-dimensional characters when they go to the movies.
These kinds of films simply require too much effort, or so these folks say.
In their view, audiences want movies that simply wash over them like a warm tub, movies that simply lull and/or stimulate, diverting them from their troubles. In fact, the sillier and more undemanding, the better. To hear them tell it, the cinematic version of a Valium pill is what's in vogue today.
If indeed these people are correct, then Larry Crowne may actually do well at the box office. After all, the flavor is vanilla, and who doesn't like vanilla?
The other factor that may help the movie prevail is its star power. Regardless of whether the product is good or bad, Hollywood is counting on the fact that moviegoers still love Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, and that alone will get them into the theaters. And they may well be right.
Looking ahead, folks like me will keep hoping for that renaissance of great films made in America, waiting for the day when audiences finally rebel and decide to stop paying $12 a head for two hours of predictable mediocrity.
Then a year or so down the road, I'll hear through the grapevine that yet another film is being released from Hollywood specifically for my age group, and I'll eagerly investigate, only to learn the title of the film... is Larry Crowne-2.
To see John's videos for WNET-Channel 13, go to www.reel13.org
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