Now playing: ‘Larry Crowne’ returns Tom Hanks to role as America’s favorite Joe Schmoe |

Now playing: ‘Larry Crowne’ returns Tom Hanks to role as America’s favorite Joe Schmoe

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Last summer, crowds of all sorts were bored stiff by "Eat Pray Love," a story of someone finding their purpose after making some drastic life changes. While that leading lady returns in the similar "Larry Crowne," the heavy-handedness of her last movie thankfully doesn't carry over.

Surrounded by friendly people and raking in multiple "Employee of the Month" awards, Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) loves working for retail outlet UMart. But, his genuine enjoyment of his job doesn't count for much with the corporate bigwigs who have determined Larry to be unfit for advancement because of his lack of a college degree, firing him rather than keeping him where he is.

With bills piling up and nobody hiring someone his age for entry-level positions, Larry starts checking out community college classes, settling on a handful of courses that will help him ease into the process of going back to school.

An economics class taught by a master of intimidation (George Takei) is tough enough, but a class in public speaking may be even more difficult, as Larry quickly makes a bad first impression with the humorless instructor (Julia Roberts).

But, as he adjusts to his new situation as a student, he finds himself initiating changes in his life more and more every day, the results of which are pleasantly surprising.

It's impossible to dislike Hanks in any movie, even if his role is thinly written. With his biggest parts lately being that of a globetrotting symbologist, a cartoon cowboy doll, and a Texas congressman, it's refreshing to see America's nice guy as Joe Schmoe, just trying to eke out a living in these hard times.

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Roberts works well with her former co-star of "Charlie Wilson's War," as Mercedes Tainot, a teacher who's given up on making a real effort in her job, thanks to a mutual lack of interest from her students. Most of them, anyway, but of course, Larry is different, making her see that all men her age aren't nearly as small-minded as her hack writer husband (Bryan Cranston).

As for the other people in Larry's life, Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson are fun as his neighbors, who run a never-ending yard sale as a means of income, providing Larry with a scooter to cut down on gas. It's this hog that brings him within the radius of Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a much younger fellow student and scooter-rider — as well as the embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl stock character — who takes it upon herself to completely rejuvenate Larry's image, even giving him a new moniker to fit his new life.

Well, when somebody else is naming you, they could do worse than calling you Lance Corona.

Hanks' first film behind the camera since 1996's "That Thing You Do!" is a bit underwhelming considering the subject matter. A movie about a guy who loses his job at the worst possible time should feel more true to life, although there is certainly something universal about the satisfaction of seeing the man who handed you your walking papers reduced to delivering your pizza.

Although Hanks' screenplay — penned with Nia Vardalos — languishes the longer it goes, the writer/director's acting talents are what make this tale of self-discovery after age 40 worth watching.

As a director, Hanks can't convince us of some underlying point in his work, but that same weakness is his greatest strength when he's playing Larry, who no longer has his life charted out the way he thought it would go, coming to learn that something better was right around the corner.

The movie "Larry Crowne" is too easygoing to take at face value, but the character of the same name is its saving grace. And, just like Larry's weird pronunciation of the word "spectacular," it just goes to show that life can be whatever you want it to be.

Now playing:

“Larry Crowne”

2.5 out of 4 stars

99 minutes

Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston and Cedric the Entertainer.