My Big, Fat Movie in 'Ruins'
Kathleen Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Tom Hanks and his Greek-American wife Rita Wilson so loved Nia Vardalos' one-woman play "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" that they were more than happy to produce 2002's big-screen version. Good call, considering that the mini-budgeted "Wedding" raked in something like $350 million bucks from folks who ate up the broad humor and jolly ethnic stereotyping. Happy endings for Vardalos? Not so much. Her TV show "My Big Fat Greek Life" -- talk about cashing in -- flopped, as did "Connie and Carla," her distaff re-mix of "Some Like It Hot."
Now the Greek-Canadian comedienne is back with a new movie—and guess what? "My Life in Ruins" achieves heights of banal, manipulative silliness barely dreamed of in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Only daft 50-something ladies who devour the most formulaic romance novels and little boys who thrive on caca jokes and hilarity at the expense of gays could get off on this recycled dud.
Following the screamingly predictable paint-by-numbers "Wedding" template, "Ruins" introduces us to Georgia (Vardalos), a pretty lady of a certain age who has variously lost her mojo, her "kefi," a sense of humor, her ability to tell dirty jokes and get laid. Once a professor of classical studies, she's now demoted to tour guide, kvetching nonstop about having to herd repulsive tourists around magnificent Greek ruins. Also high on her whine list is having to put up with the "hairy, creepy, hairy" guy (Alexis Georgoulis) who drives her dilapidated tourist bus. (Cue big laugh: the bus driver's name is Poupi. Funnier still: his last name is Kakas.)
Spinster + colorful "family" + unlikely suitor = "My Big Fat Greek Wedding Part Deux."
It's Georgia's lucky day. Her Group B contains Kim and Big Al—ugly, low-IQ Americans (Rachel Dratch and Harland Williams) likely to eye an intricately carved silver alms box in a Greek Orthodox church and observe, "It would be great for snacks in the rec room." Also on board: an IHOP manager who collects vintage syrups; perennially drunk -- but thankfully, never chundering—Aussies; two Spanish divorcees who practically bare their breasts at any passing male; a doddery Brit couple (the adorable wife shoplifts at every turn); and a Borscht Belt Yoda (Richard Dreyfuss) who dispenses jokes and advice when he isn't tupping the randy Spaniards with the aid of liberal doses of Viagra.
These philistines prefer shopping for souvenirs, ice cream and doughnuts over souvlaki and baklava, the Hard Rock Café and boffing on the beach to sweating through the ruined splendor that was once Greece. While Georgia keeps droning on about the history of the Parthenon and the Delphic Oracle, they snap up Greek temples made out of soap and vases crafted in Korea. You can't imagine how funny this is. Mostly because it isn't. It's just sad and embarrassing.
I read that because Vardalos is so beloved in Greece, she received special permission to shoot among the famous ruins. That's a puzzlement, given the caricatures that pass for authentic Greek-iness in "My Life in Ruins." First, there's Nico, Georgia's rival tour guide (Alistair McGowan, popular British impressionist). Like the sweaty, unshaven hotel-keeper who tries to con Georgia into giving sex for postage, Nico cycles through a nauseating repertoire of leers and suggestive body movements which apparently pass for irresistible machismo in modern Greece. Think drooling lounge-lizards in the extreme.
Then there are the nearly slobbering gay guys, their pursed, kissy lips shot ever so flatteringly in fish-eye-lens close-ups. Maybe the Greeks have some kind of S&M relationship with Vardalos because it seems like pain and humiliation buy love in Athens.
As the cute, low-rent Zorba music tinkles on, the tourist types turn human overnight—or what passes for human in this retrograde farce. The Sasquatch bus driver shaves, revealing the hunk that was always there, and Georgia gets her kefi back big-time. I give nothing away, since you will know where this movie is going from its first frame. Forget character or plot development; this narrative odyssey could take place at home in front of your TV, during a soon-to-be-cancelled sitcom. ("Ruins" was scripted by TV writer Mike Reiss.)
As in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Vardalos' performance consists mostly of mugging and double takes at the over-the-top grotesqueries that surround her. A remarkably bland actress, she betrays no depths or sexual chemistry. Only Dreyfuss brings anything like genuine charm to this debacle. Able to play a twinkly-eyed, wise old guy with a heart of gold with his hands tied, this veteran actor earns kudos for jazzing up a monumentally clichéd role.
As for the ruins, they look spectacular. Go there without this movie.