Sometimes it seems no one in Hollywood is capable of learning a simple lesson: You can’t replicate a sui generis success.
You’d think Nia Vardalos would have figured it out by now. The Canadian-born actress became practically an overnight success when “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” the 2002 independent film she wrote and in which she starred, became the highest-grossing romantic comedy in history. She followed that hilarious charmer with the television series “My Big Fat Greek Life” the following year; it lasted just seven episodes.
Yet here is Miss Vardalos again, back on the big screen for just the second time since “Wedding,” playing another romantically challenged Greek-American grappling with her heritage. At least this predictable rehash wasn’t her idea: It was written by “The Simpsons” scribe Mike Reiss, whose first romantic comedy simply repeats the conventions of the genre.
The actress herself is pretty winsome as Georgia, who moved to Athens to teach but is forced to take a job as a tour guide after the university has to cut back. She doesn’t like the tourists, and they don’t like her. Rival Nico (British mimic Alistair McGowan) gets all the good groups — the ones made up of kind Canadians. Georgia gets the shop-crazy Americans, impossible-to-understand Australians and husband-hunting Europeans.
While Nico offers his bus tours a week of fun, Georgia insists on a week of lectures. “We’re standing in the middle of culture and history, and they want a 50-50 poly-cotton-blend T-shirt with a picture of a Trojan horse on it,” she complains.
Then again, she’s not crazy about the locals, either: “It was the birthplace of art and philosophy and democracy. And then they discovered the nap.”
The unhappy Georgia has lost her kefi — the Greeks’ term for mojo. Two men help her get it back. Richard Dreyfuss plays a wise and wisecracking American tourist whose bad jokes mask some awful pain, and Alexis Georgoulis is the Greek bus driver who inevitably emerges from his thick beard to become an Adonis.
There are a few genuinely funny moments in this romantic comedy, but only a few. More often, the humor is cheap, as when the driver’s complicated name is shortened to Poupi Kakas. This seems at times like a romcom aimed at 8-year-old boys rather than adult women. The supporting cast is uneven, too; Harland Williams and Rachel Dratch play stereotypically annoying Americans so well that you’ll want to see as little of them as Georgia does.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was more creative with its stereotypes. (Who looked at a bottle of Windex the same way again?) The surprise hit certainly didn’t need to be milked a third time — even “Zorba the Greek” is prominently referenced here again. Let’s hope the appealing everywoman Miss Vardalos doesn’t wait another five years to make a movie — and let’s hope her next one doesn’t feature a single souvlaki.
TITLE: “My Life in Ruins”
RATING: PG-13 (sexual content)
CREDITS: Directed by Donald Petrie. Written by Mike Reiss.
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
WEB SITE: foxsearchlight.com/mylifeinruins
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS