My Life in Ruins -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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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 her 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 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." 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 with 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) but 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.

Opens: Friday, June 5 (Fox Searchlight)
Production: 26 Films, Playtone, Kanzaman
Cast: Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Georgoulis, Rachel Dratch, Maria Adanez, Sheila Bernette, Maria Botto, Harland Williams, Jareb Dauplaise, Alistair McGowan, Rita Wilson
Director: Donald Petrie
Screenwriter: Mike Reiss
Producers: Michelle Chydzik Sowa, Nathalie Marciano
Executive producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Peter Safran, Rita Wilson
Director of photography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Production designer: David Chapman
Costume designers: Lala Huete, Lena Mossum
Editor: Patrick J. Don Vito
Rated PG-13, 93 minutes