| If banks in Hollywood measured deposits in goodwill, audience appeal and genuine likability, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, 54, would have an unlimited account. Hanks ("Forrest Gump," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Big" and "Splash") wears four hats serving as producer, director, co-screenwriter and lead actor in this light and breezy romantic comedy.
The straightforward story from Hanks and Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") touches on today's economic woes, covering the topics of corporate downsizing, home foreclosures and high gasoline prices.
The title character is a good-natured, divorced gentleman born in the 1950s, who gets high on the small moments in life. After having served for 20 years in the Navy as a cook, he works as a top salesman for a big box retailer. He gets called in to the employee's break room thinking he has won his ninth award as employee of the month. His belligerent boss Jack Strang (Shawnee Mission South and KU graduate Rob Riggle from "Saturday Night Live") tells Crowne he is fired because he doesn't have a college degree.
Despite being an eternal optimist, Crowne reaches a low point. Although dejected and down-hearted, he goes job hunting. He talks to his bank loan officer (Hanks' real-life wife Rita Wilson) about refinancing his mortgage. She declines his request and recommends that he liquidate his assets to raise money. He turns to his neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), who has a monopoly on yard sales, for advice. Lamar tells him that you are never too old to learn.
Crowne decides to enroll at the local community college. He is greeted at the admissions desk by the dean of student services (Kansas City native Holmes Osborne), who suggests two courses for the first semester.
The movie spends a lot of time in the classroom, where Crowne interacts with his fellow students and the professors. His school day begins at 8 a.m. with a speech class taught by Mrs. Mercedes Tainot (Oscar winner Julia Roberts from "Eat Pray Love" and "Erin Brockovich," who previously appeared opposite Hanks in "Charlie Wilson's War") followed by economics presided over by Ed Matsutani (George Takei best known as Sulu from "Star Trek").
Crowne trades his gas-guzzling SUV for a scooter and forms a friendship with free-spirited Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and joins her scooter gang.
Tainot is the breadwinner in an unhappy marriage. She finally gets up the nerve to kick her Internet porn-surfing husband Dean (Bryan Cranston) out of the house after he makes a snide remark about the size of her breasts.
While waiting at a bus stop in a slightly inebriated state, she agrees to ride on the back of Crowne's scooter. They exchange a passionate kiss at her front door. Although he has a chance to score with his tipsy teacher, Crowne decides to wait for a more sober moment and says good night. You know immediately where this blossoming romance is headed, but who doesn't like happy endings?
This infectiously entertaining summer movie makes you feel good. It provides hope that a fresh start is possible regardless of age.
Hanks has oodles of charm, and he and Roberts have great chemistry.
The real find in the acting arena is the beautiful Mbatha-Raw. She brings an enthusiastic attitude to the proceedings. Her star should be on the upswing after sharing the spotlight opposite Hanks in a sterling supporting performance.
The movie never wears out its welcome with a precisely manicured running time of 99 minutes. It benefits from a bouncy soundtrack of familiar tunes from seven-time Oscar-nominated composer James Newton Howard.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"