Everything that made the adorable “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” so winning is missing from this tired and formulaic sitcom of a movie about an American tour guide in Greece. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” with writer/star Nia Vardalos, was filled with charm, heart, originality, and vivid detail. Now Vardalos stars — but did not write — “My Life in Ruins.” It is as tired as its title, a drawn-out sitcom of a movie that tries to charm us with thin jokes about ignorant tourists who travel around the world but don’t want to see anything.
Vardalos plays Georgia, an American of Greek heritage who went to Greece to teach but lost her job and is now stuck working for a small company with two tour buses. The other guide gets the one with the good air conditioning and the happy, easy-going customers. Georgia gets the bad bus, the bad hotels, and the cranky tourists. Plus the guy who is always making corny jokes (Richard Dreyfuss) — not that they are any better than the rest of the jokes in the movie — and some Australians who appear to be cheerful but whom no one can understand. Georgia sees this as a way to teach the visitors about the glory and history of Greece, to have them “bask in history” and “to be a part of the birth of civilization.” But they think they are on vacation and what she has in mind feels too much like work. All they want to do is eat ice cream and buy souvenirs.
And the new tour bus driver has a name that sounds like a bad word and a huge fuzzy beard. You think she’ll be surprised when she finds out that he speaks English and understands what she’s been saying? You’re right! You think it will be funny when it happens? You’re wrong. You think the tour bus driver will shave and turn out to be handsome so that Georgia can recover her “kefi” (Greek for mojo)? You’re right! You think it will make the movie entertaining? You’re wrong!
Vardalos looks uncomfortably skinny and as though she knows she could have written a better script. “Saturday Night Live’s” Rachel Dratch is wasted as the kind of tourist who is always looking for the Hard Rock Cafe or an international branch of Curves. And then there is the warring couple with the mopey teenage daughter who — here’s a surprise — won’t take the earbuds out of her ears. The stereotypes are not awful because they are predictable. After all, they become stereotypes because they happen so often. They are awful because they are so thin and superficial and phony. It is ironic that while Georgia is whining about how tourists do not appreciate the grandeur and history of the ancient ruins, the movie itself feels as though it is the cinematic equivalent of a chintzy souvenir. It is a shame to spoil the beautiful scenery with these vaudeville-era jokes. Georgia may find her kefi in this film, but the script never does.