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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Tom Hanks

Fourth of July puzzle: Are America and Tom Hanks out of step?

July 4, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Photo: Tom Hanks in "Larry Crowne." Credit: Universal Pictures Few mountains in moviedom are harder to climb than the one "Larry Crowne" has just tried to scale. Told in the unfashionable genre of the dramatic comedy, Tom Hanks' tale of midlife redemption via community-college enrollment and a gang of affable scooter-riders was never destined to become a monster hit. That it didn't exactly bowl over critics ("offbeat" was the nicest word some could find for it) ensured the film was something far less than that: Over this four-day holiday weekend, the Hanks-Julia Roberts collaboration barely mustered $15 million.

But no matter how low the bar, there are conclusions to draw from the movie's failure. "Larry Crowne," after all, had two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood history. Over the past quarter-century, Hanks and Roberts have accounted for nearly two dozen movies that grossed at least $100 million and defined the culture to boot, from "Forrest Gump" to "Erin Brockovich," "Cast Away" to "Pretty Woman." And yet here they were, together, struggling to out-open "Hall Pass" and "Jumping the Broom."

Central to the film's dismal results is how its themes play to a demographic that, as my colleague John Horn points out, doesn't fuel big opening weekends. (Nearly three-quarters of the film's audience this weekend was above the age of 50, according to Universal Pictures, which released the movie.)

Maybe more important, as Hollywood pundits have been noting for some time, stars exert a lot less influence over moviegoers than they once did. Unless actors are inhabiting a signature role or character, their presence isn't enough to lure us to theaters. We'll pay to watch Matt Damon as a globetrotting Jason Bourne but not as a tortured San Francisco clairvoyant; Johnny Depp compels us as a swashbuckling Jack Sparrow but not as an early-20th century gangster.

That rule would certainly seem to apply to "Crowne." As a laid-off retail clerk faced with home foreclosure, Hanks (who also directed and co-wrote the movie) wasn't anywhere close to what has been his signature part in the past few years -- the conspiracy-solving professor Robert Langdon, a character that gave him his only recent live-action hits. (Another recent movie, "Charlie Wilson's War," was similarly a world away from that character; it also underperformed.)  And as an embittered, semi-alcoholic professor, Roberts (who also costarred in "Wilson's War") was herself removed from one of her trademark America's Sweetheart roles.

But it's hard not to wonder if something else is at work with Hanks, something more specific than just the issue of waning star power.

The 54-year-old initially became a box-office draw because he was a charming if innocuous presence, the regular guy we could all identify with. But when you look at America's favorite movies circa 2011, they're populated with very different, and decidedly less Everyman, types: the kooky and stonerish ("The Hangover's" Zach Galifianakis); the swashbuckling and sometimes morally ambiguous ("Pirates of the Caribbean's" Depp); and, most commonly lately, the Adonis-like and reticent ("Thor's" Chris Hemsworth).

Even the alleged heir to Hanks' nice-guy throne, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" star Shia LaBeouf, is  more intense and jittery than Hanks ever was. Genial likability -- the on-screen demeanor Hanks made famous -- isn't common among today's film protagonists. American leading men do many things these days. Guy-next-door is rarely one of them.

Taking a closer look at Hanks' work, a more particular pattern emerges. The actor has historically played an ordinary guy, but in his biggest hits he's almost always thrust into circumstances that are so extraordinary they're almost absurd.

He has drifted to sleep a child and woken up a man; gone unwittingly from mentally challenged savant to phenomenally rich folk hero; boarded a plane and gotten marooned for several years on a desert island; boarded a plane and gotten marooned for several years in an airport; walked down a city street and fallen in love with a fish. The biggest lesson of the Tom Hanks canon might be: "If you look like a regular guy and act like a gentleman, you just might have the most adventurous life humankind has ever known."

Seen through this lens, "Larry Crowne's" storyline, about a normal dude with normal problems (he struggles to find love and pay the bills), is a zeitgeist misfire on several levels. It stars a man whose primary asset we no longer favor, and places him in banal situations we don't enjoy seeing him in.

Hanks will next test his appeal  in several high-profile films, including  the post-Sept. 11 magical-realism of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," the time-bending historical epic "Cloud Atlas" and the seafaring adventure "Captain Phillips," about a workaday cargo-ship captain whose vessel is commandeered by Somali pirates.

It's an open question whether Hanks will come across as his usual likable self in these movies. But judging by the source material, the settings at least will revert to his typical mermaid-loving, JFK-amusing, volleyball-addressing outlandishness. Which maybe -- but only maybe -- will make him a box-office draw again.


Critics agree: Michael Bay is better than Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts

'Larry Crowne' is opening opposite 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'

'Transformers' demolishes the competition

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Tom Hanks in "Larry Crowne." Credit: Universal Pictures

Critics agree: Michael Bay is better than Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts

July 1, 2011 | 11:24 am

1 There’s no question Michael Bay can crush giant robots. Now the “Transformers” director has flattened Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
While reviews for Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” were scarcely glowing, they were nonetheless superior on average to the notices given Hanks and Roberts’ “Larry Crowne,” the romantic comedy that Hanks also directed and is  opening this weekend against “Transformers.”

According to two of the three most prominent movie review aggregation sites — Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic — the third “Transformers” film received better marks than “Larry Crowne” by a slim but consistent margin, even though critics largely disliked both films. 

Rotten Tomatoes assigned “Transformers” a score of 37% positive reviews compared to “Larry Crowne’s” 35%, while Metacritic favored the intergalactic robot story over the Hanks movie by a 42 to 1 41 margin. Movie Review Intelligence, the third big aggregation site, gave "Larry Crowne" the narrowest of victories, with the Hanks movie rating 47.1%, barely surpassing the 46.6% for  “Transformers.” 

While critics for years have loved to trash Bay’s movies, the contempt they dumped on Hanks and Roberts was remarkable for its ferocity. 

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times said “Larry Crowne” is “an inside-out movie, acceptable around the edges but hollow and shockingly unconvincing at its core. When that core is two of the biggest movie stars around — Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts — it’s an especially dispiriting situation.”

In the Wall Street Journal, John Anderson wrote: “As difficult as it is to dislike Mr. Hanks, it takes no effort to all to develop an aversion toward ‘Larry Crowne,’ the alleged comedy being perpetrated today by Mr. Hanks; his director, Mr. Hanks; his producer, Mr. Hanks; and the co-writer, Mr. Hanks. It is a distinctly painful experience.”

Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune said the film “offers zero surprises, but — fatally — no wit, and only the thinnest sort of synthetic charm.”

One of the few nice “Larry Crowne” write-ups came from Boxoffice magazine’s Pete Hammond, who said the film is “a perfect summer comedy for grown-ups looking to escape robots and superheroes.”

At least the “Larry Crowne” reviews are not the worst in either actor’s career. Hanks’ “The Da Vinci Code” was savaged even more brutally in 2006, while Roberts’ “Valentine’s Day” a year ago earned materially lower marks.


Critical Mass: 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' gets thrashed (who knew?)

Hollywood sequels bite into a new crust

Movie review: 'Larry Crowne'

 -- John Horn

Photo: Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in "Larry Crowne." Credit: Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

Photo: Bumblebee in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Can Julia Roberts come back on her own terms?

January 12, 2010 |  1:32 pm


The feeling around Hollywood lately is that Sandra Bullock has in some ways walked off with Julia Roberts’ career. The actress opted for “The Proposal” after Roberts passed and starred in “The Blind Side,” which had been first offered to Roberts back when the film was at Fox.

Roberts has instead decided to focus on her family, stepping back in to the limelight mainly to play supporting parts in movies like “Charlie Wilson’s War” and ensemble roles like the one she has in the upcoming Garry Marshall flick “Valentine’s Day”  (which, as those ubiquitous TV ads have shown, has Roberts playing a soldier who flirts outrageously with Bradley Cooper).

"Duplicity” last year marked a comeback of sorts, but while the complex thriller impressed the critics, regular Joes appear to have found the tale of two corporate spies a little remote.

Now comes word that Roberts is taking on another lead role, with “Charlie Wilson’s War” buddy Tom Hanks writing and directing a movie for the two of them about a man re-inventing his life at middle age. The man endures a midlife crisis and joins a kids' Vespa gang; Roberts plays an instructor at a school that Hanks' character enrolls in. (Clearly the midlife-crisis theme is resonant for Hanks – he also owns the rights to the book “How Starbucks Changed My Life,” a memoir about a man who goes to work at Starbucks at age 63 after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.)

Fans (this writer included) tend to feel like it’s been a long time since they've gotten their fix of the big wide smile and the whole smiling-through-tears moment that seems to come in every commercial movie she does, from “Pretty Woman” to “Notting Hill.”

Of course, the more limited work schedule is not just a family thing for Roberts. She’s now choosing her films on a lot more than their commercial appeal, taking on ambitious projects that offer her the chance to play meatier roles.

In August, she’ll be seen doing just that when “Eat, Pray, Love,” the adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about a woman who travels the globe after her divorce, hits the screen. That movie has general appeal and should stoke fan interest (especially the pairing of Roberts and Javier Bardem). But directed by “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy, it also appears to be the kind of film that works in Roberts' interest in more prestige fare.

Last spring, Roberts told this paper that she can’t imagine herself recycling the romantic rescue tropes that endeared her to audiences in the '90s. “I can’t play those parts anymore,” she said. “It just doesn’t work for me at 41, with three kids and happily married.”

But as the skyrocketing careers of Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep have demonstrated recently, in contemporary you can also tell real stories about women over 40 that have genuine broad appeal. You can be, in other words, the new Julia Roberts.

-- Rachel Abramowitz

Photo: Julia Roberts. Credit: Evan Agostini/AP


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