Throughout My Life in Ruins, a couple of characters are frequently reminded that they are not as funny as they think they are. Unfortunately, this also applies to the movie itself. It wants to be a bubbly and occasionally zany comedy with a touch of romance surrounded by gorgeous Greek scenery ... but it often feels flat and forced, and even the landscapes seemed blah. It's being touted as a follow-up to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with the same lead actress (Nia Vardalos), but it doesn't have the pleasing blend of comedy and family sentiment that made its predecessor a success.
The movie is about a five-day tour of legendary ruins in Greece (thus the title). Georgia (Vardalos), a former history instructor whose stopgap job as a tour guide has extended for years. She hates her job, fusses because she's being assigned "second-class" tourists, and finds fault with everything in Greece that isn't at least 2,000 years old. Various Greeks -- her boss, her bus driver -- tell her that she has lost her kefi, a Greek word meaning joie de vivre or mojo or the ability to not annoy the audience. She just needs to relax and get laid and stop worrying her pretty head about things.
The Greek chorus of "you're too uptight" is joined by widower tourist Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), one of the many cliched tourist stereotypes traveling through Greece with Georgia as guide. She also has to deal with incomprehensible Australians, dorky Americans, sexy Spanish divorcees, a dysfunctional British family, and a cute little old lady who steals stuff -- not to mention the sleazy competing tour guide who has decided to torture her into quitting.
I waited for Georgia to stop putting up with these pests and start taking charge, preferably with charges of dynamite, but instead I had listen to her whine about how everyone wants to go to the beach and eat ice cream instead of listening to her lecturing about ancient Greek history. The character's continual plastered-on smile makes you wonder if she's running for Vice President. On the other hand, it's refreshing to see a female character go after men who are younger than she is with no comment, much less repercussion.
Irv comes across as one of those magical wise characters that dispenses homespun wisdom, the white Midwestern version of Morgan Freeman, I suppose. Still, Dreyfuss has enough charm to pull it off most of the time. I was dissatisfied by the way Irv's storyline resolved, and wondered if it hadn't originally been scripted or filmed one way and then changed due to criticism. Other supporting characters are fitfully funny, but more often grating.
Bear in mind that Vardalos, who scripted My Big Fat Greek Wedding, didn't write My Life in Ruins. The screenwriter this time is sitcom writer Mike Reiss, who resorts to cringeworthy gags about Greek names like Poupy and Kakas. The movie was directed by Donald Petrie, who has directed a number of forgettable romantic comedies, the most memorable of which was Miss Congeniality.
My Life in Ruins is obviously meant to appeal to women in a summer stuffed with blockbusters aimed at a younger male audience. But women deserve better escapist fare than this feeble attempt at romantic comedy.Variety reported this week that the audiences for Drag Me to Hell have been skewing "surprisingly" female. But Alison Lohman's character in that film, although she might seem blandly Everywoman-ish at times, is far more fun and fierce than the plastic fantastic Tour Guide Georgia. If you want Greek scenery, rent Mamma Mia; if you want a kickass heroine, try the Raimi film; if you like Vardalos, hopefully she'll be more lively in next month's I Hate Valentine's Day, which she wrote and directed.