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My Life in Ruins

Rated PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Georgoulis, Rachel Dratch, Harland Williams, Alistair McGowan, María Adánez, Sheila Bernette, María Botto.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 5, 2009

If last summer’s Mamma Mia! left you with a hunger to see more Grecian scenery onscreen, then My Life in Ruins offers a snack to keep your juices flowing until you make it to the Parthenon some day in the future. The snack, however, won’t be especially nutritious nor will it look as spectacular as the sun-dappled water and cliffs did in Mamma Mia!’s Greek isle. Even though My Life in Ruins promotes the fact that it is the first movie in history to be granted permission by Greek authorities to film at the Acropolis, the movie might have achieved the same backgrounded picture-postcard effect by filming at Nashville’s ersatz Parthenon and just CGI-ing in some busted columns and century rot. The bland cinematography (by José Luis Alcaine) fits with the unimaginative script (by veteran TV comedy writer and producer Mike Reiss) and the drab direction of Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Miss Congeniality). Vardalos, who will probably spend a lifetime trying to replicate a fraction of the phenomenal success she experienced with 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is again backed by the Playtone Productions group headed by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson (who also appears in a small role). Vardalos here plays Georgia, an American scholar in Athens who is slumming as a tour guide for disinterested international travelers. Her rival tour guide (McGowan) sees to it that he gets all the best tourists and she gets the un-air-conditioned bus. Georgia swears her current tour is going to be her last; she needs to find her “kefi,” a Greek word she translates as “mojo.” Her busload of gauche tourist stereotypes isn’t helping her mood any, and neither is the silent, hairy busdriver Poupi (Georgoulis), whose name is a great source of juvenile humor. Amid the goofy Americans, man-hunting Spanish senoritas, drunken Australians, uptight Brits, and an old-lady pickpocket, Dreyfuss’ widower Irv, a grieving joker, is the only spark in the group. Irv is the Dionysian spirit who pushes Georgia and the others toward their more hedonistic impulses, and Dreyfuss delivers the pushy kitsch in his own inimitable fashion. Shorn of his excess hair, Poupi is revealed as a Mediterranean god and Georgia’s obvious soulmate. Georgia also stops stressing about her clients' penchant for spending most of their time in tacky gift shops and Hard Rock Cafes instead of engaging in authentic experiences. All ends happily for everyone in the movie, but for those in the audience, the experience is so hackneyed that they’ll come out feeling like they’re wearing shirts that say, “I went to the Acropolis, but all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”
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