Review in a Hurry: Not the head of the class. Tom Hanks plays the titular middle-aged college student who's hot for his burned-out teacher (Julia Roberts). Mildly amusing Larry gets a pass because of its likable leads but earns low marks for the flimsy plot and undercooked romance.
The Bigger Picture: In addition to starring, co-producing, and co-scripting, Hanks takes the directorial reins for the first time since his buoyant 1996 debut, That Thing You Do! This go-round, that thing he does is less successful. Uneven in tone and pacing, Larry suffers from an identity crisis, unsure whether it's a wacky, back-to-school comedy or a bittersweet portrait of two lost souls at the crossroads.
Affable divorc Larry (Hanks) gets fired from his managerial job for lacking a higher-ed degree, so he enrolls at a community college to improve his prospects. He also swaps his gas-guzzling SUV for a scooter, which attracts the attention of classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). This pretty sparkplug and her hipster pals inexplicably welcome nerdy Larry into their motorbike "gang," making over his clothes/hair/apartment in the process, and giving him a "cool" nickname.
This annoys Larry's embittered speech teacher Mercedes Tainot (Roberts, looking flawless, though her character drinks heavily and doesn't exercise). Down on men since discovering her husband's porn addiction, she wrongly assumes Larry is schtupping decades-younger Talia.
That misunderstanding is the main complication in this meandering romance, which makes a weak case for Larry and Mercedes to end up together--except, ya know, it's Mr. Nice Guy and Ms. Mona Lisa Smile. Their one, fairly innocuous drunken encounter isn't reason enough to cheer their unlikely pairing or believe Mercedes' transformation.
The pic hits sympathetic notes in recession-era situations and wrings a few laughs from the classroom--notably Star Trek's George Takei as a manic, cell-phone-snatching prof. But characters get painted in broad strokes when we want more substantive details. Larry's divorce goes unexplored, Mercedes too easily dumps her hubby, and friends/neighbors are only sit-commy sidekicks.
In the end, Larry is like that class you can ditch without missing much.
The 180--a Second Opinion: The cast is more eclectic than most, with co-stars Cedric the Entertainer, Pam Grier, Bryan Cranston, Wilmer Valderrama (seriously?), and the underused Taraji P. Henson.
(Originally published June 30, 2011 at 4:16 p.m. PT)