Tom Hanks' second feature film as a director (after the very pleasant That Thing You Do!) was not screened for critics by press deadlines. This turns out to be the most understandable thing about it.

Larry Crowne

WW Critic's Score: 24

Take the NBC series Community, remove its braces of irony so it spills and wobbles onto the screen like a Tom Hanks-shaped Jell-O, and you have Larry Crowne. It announces itself from the opening scene as a gnaw-through-your-own-leg-to-escape variety of sunny torture; I spent almost all 99 minutes wishing I had to pee. The movie is so hapless from the outset that I don't think anybody will hold it against the participants—even Hanks, who directed. It's like walking into the aftermath of a party spoiled by food poisoning: All you can think is, "Well, I suppose we should start cleaning this mess up."

Hanks' titular everyman begins the movie as a factotum at a big box retailer (the movie opens with a montage of hired tedium so idyllic that I wondered if it was meant to be a fantasy of erstwhile employment, but no). After being callously fired, Larry enrolls in junior college—an apt setting, since the movie feels like it was written by a juco student, maybe one studying English as a second language. In fact, Larry Crowne was co-scripted by Hanks and My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos, and their collaboration has resulted in a movie where the characters feel compelled to reassure each other that they are good people, that their lives and conversations are going well, that the thing they saw happen actually happened, and that they just had lunch. Their insecurity is partly due to These Economic Times, yes, but that doesn't explain the formal diction, or the way people around Larry are always laughing in delight for no reason. It is possible that every character in the movie is falling-down drunk; that's the best hypothesis I can offer.

Scattered throughout the movie, like turds in treacle, are scenes of Julia Roberts and Bryan Cranston as an academic couple who actually are drunk most of the time, and fighting. (He looks at bikini-shot "porn" on his computer, and because he is married to Julia Roberts, this is presented as the worst thing a husband could do short of killing a drifter and leaving the body in her bed.) She teaches Larry's speech class, and I assume you can take it from there, though I defy you to explain how the students end up being so good at giving speeches after their professor sat in the back of the room all semester nursing a margarita hangover.

Maybe it's just an easy audience: At the movie's uplifting conclusion, Larry delivers a two-minute presentation on world travel that is so harmlessly banal that you actually want to pat Hanks on the head, but his classmates gaze in rapt attention and at random junctures laugh—again, I cannot emphasize enough how creepy this is—for no godly reason. I do not mean to be snotty but merely precisely descriptive when I say that much of Larry Crown appears intended as a matinee for people with mild cognitive disabilities. Its target demographic is Forrest Gump. PG-13.

Larry Crowne opens Friday. Find showtimes here.