Lovely scenery is stuck in a sub-sitcom script in Nia Vardalos’ attempt to recapture the spirit of her unaccountably successful “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” (The intervening “Connie and Carla” certainly rang no bells.) This time around she only stars rather than also writing the script (for which Mike Reiss must take the blame), but the result is even broader and sappier.
Here, Vardalos stretches credulity to the breaking point by taking the part of Georgia, a professor of ancient history who, finding herself unemployed in Greece, is working as a tourist guide with a crummy outfit whose owner always saddles her with the broken-down bus, the scruffy driver Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis), and the most troublesome clients. Meanwhile her nasty colleague Nico (Alistair McGowan) is assigned the air-conditioned vehicle and the well-heeled riders, and his group is always put up in the good hotels.
Georgia’s unhappy, of course, not only over her job but her love life, or rather lack thereof, and ready to quit. Her spirits are hardly raised by her latest bunch of customers, an international crew composed of stock figures from the repertory of failed network comedies. There are the “ugly Americans” Big Al and Kim (Harland Williams and Rachel Dratch); Ken and Sue (Simon Gleeson and Natalie O’Donnell), an Aussie couple whose Down Under lingo is barely intelligible; senior Brits Barnaby and Dorcas (Ralph Nossek and Sheila Bernette), he on a walker and she with a penchant for shoplifting; Lala and Lena, two Spanish divorcees (Maria Botto and Maria Adanez) on the lookout for men; the Tullens, a bickering British couple (Ian Ogilvy and Caroline Goodall) with a sulky daughter named Caitlin (Sophie Stuckey); Marc (Brian Palermo), a pancake franchise executive with his ear glued to a cell phone; Gator (Jareb Dauplaise), a goofy Florida college kid; and, most importantly, Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), a widower with the soul of a stand-up comic.
They’re all initially hostile to Georgia, whose academic style interferes with their desire for simple escape. But when she loosens up, as a result of a warming relationship between her and the newly-shaved Poupi, their attitude changes. And she, with his and Irv’s help, will help them all bond and have heaps of fun, sending the noxious Nico packing in the process.
It’s conceivable that a witty, clever tale of tourists and guide both learning to live again could be written, but this isn’t it. The characters are all dumb caricatures, the jokes moldy, the sentiment heavy-handed, and the acting, particularly by Vardalos but by old pro Dreyfuss too, way beyond broad under the drab, listless direction of Donald Petrie. The one and only thing “My Life in Ruins” has going for it is the Greek setting. The beaches, mountain roads and seascapes are nice enough, but it’s when the group visits locales like the Olympic fields, the temple of Apollo at Delphi and the Parthenon in Athens that Jose Luis Alcaine’s cinematography is at its best. Some of the views are pretty gorgeous.
But they’re certainly not enough to make this a trip worth taking, especially given the company you’re required to keep. Some of these group tours are really the pits.