June 1, 2009 / 7:08 PM / 10 years ago

Greece-set "Ruins" a bland, sweet-as-baklava comedy

Cast member Nia Vardalos attends a screening of "My Life in Ruins" at the Zanuck theatre in Los Angeles May 29, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - At least “My Life in Ruins” boasts a fairly clever title, considering its subject of a Greek-born American tour guide struggling in a job from hell as her loveless, aimless life grows grimmer. Nia Vardalos, whose breakthrough came with the smash indie stunner “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” again carries the lead role, but this vehicle feels far more manufactured and forced.

On the plus side in this broad-as-the-Mediterranean comedy, which screened at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, are the magnificent Greek scenery and determined upbeat tone, also fueled (or hammered into cliche) by familiar references to such cinematic Greco-relics as “Zorba the Greek” and “Never on Sunday.” Fox Searchlight releases the film Friday (June 5). and easy-to-please audiences of a certain age and heritage might welcome its simplicity in these trying times.

Vardalos is Georgia, an Athens-based guide who conducts tours of the country for largely unpleasant tourists and battles competition on the beat from Nico (Alistair McGowan), an obnoxiously overconfident Greek guide. You’ve met Georgia’s latest gaggle of tourists before. There are the drinking Australians; the fussbudget Brits; the nice Canadians; the hot, divorced Spanish ladies; and those loud, stupid or boring Americans. A lone Yank exception is Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), a grieving widower who experiences visions of his late wife (Rita Wilson) and who, wise as his years, dispenses good advice of which Georgia is benefactor.

As her busload glides from one magnificent ruin to another with stopovers at dreary hotels, Georgia slowly warms up to handsome bus driver Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis). As she gets her mojo (“kefi” in Greek) back — that amorphous combination of a zest for life and embrace of the passionate side — even her tourist crew grows more endearing.

Director Donald Petrie, with many other middle-of-the-road itineraries behind him (“Grumpy Old Men,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”), and screenwriter Mike Reiss also throw in young love (a Brit teen gets hooked up with a handsome Greek youth), a gratuitous jab at gays, a little-old-lady serial shoplifter and the de rigueur comeuppance Georgia enjoys over rival Nico.

Kilometers away in quality from such similarly themed, female-skewed films as the classic “Summertime,” the quickie fun tour of “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” or recent delight “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Ruins” is sometimes as sunny as its locations but as familiar and predictable as a Greek diner.

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