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Vardalos saves ‘Life in Ruins’ from ruin

The movie has a bum script and two-dimensional performances, but it so brilliantly wallops audiences with the charm stick that you leave the theater grinning anyway.

If McDonald’s were ever to sell Greek food, it would be inauthentic, excessively caloric and made with bland and mass-produced ingredients. It would also be addictively tasty, even though you’d never admit that you actually liked it.

And so we get “My Life in Ruins,” a McSouvlaki of a movie with a bum script and two-dimensional performances, but it so brilliantly wallops audiences with the charm stick that you leave the theater grinning anyway.

Combining “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” with a few gallons of Ouzo, “Ruins” stars the relentlessly likeable Nia Vardalos as Georgia, an American-born scholar of Greek history reduced to taking guided tours around the temples and cathedrals of her native country.

Georgia finds herself at odds with the tourists — while she’s telling them about the history of the Olympics and the oracle at Delphi, they’d rather shop for souvenirs and go to the Hard Rock Café — and with the lackadaisical Greeks themselves. (She notes they invented democracy before they ruined it all by discovering the nap.)

The tour group that Georgia swears will be her last includes ugly Americans (Rachel Dratch and Harland Williams), uptight Brits, boozy Aussies, an elderly kleptomaniac (one of the film’s many direct lifts from “If It’s Tuesday”) and a loud jokester named Irv (Richard Dreyfuss) who winds up becoming Georgia’s confidant.

Irv prescribes a good old-fashioned romp in the hay for Georgia, even though she’s the last to realize that tour bus driver Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis) is Mr. Right Under Her Nose. As the group makes its way through the gorgeous countryside, the uptight Georgia learns to embrace the national “…and now we dance!” attitude, even discarding her itinerary to take her charges to the beach.

Anyone who’s seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” or any other movie where a Type-A American ice queen tosses her hair back and dances a jig with a muscled Mediterranean can pretty much guess everything that happens in “My Life in Ruins” just by looking at the poster. The pedestrian direction by Donald Petrie (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”) and José Luis Alcaine’s downright drab cinematography — first “Mamma Mia” and now this; why so many badly-shot films made in such a gorgeous country? — don’t really help matters either.

So why did I have such a good time at such a spectacularly middling movie? Nia Vardalos.

She’s so alive and funny here that her energetic spirit infects the rest of the movie. Mike Reiss’ screenplay does her no favors — the characters are almost offensively one-dimensional, the jokes are clunky, the situations couldn’t be more predictable — but she’s so invested in this slight bit of business that you completely buy into Georgia’s blossoming.

It’s impossible to defend “My Life in Ruins,” but Vardalos makes it such fun that you can’t entirely dismiss it, either. If you’re looking to treat your mom to 90 minutes of air conditioning with a little travelogue action thrown into the sweetly business-as-usual romance, you could do worse.

Follow Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at .