My Life in Ruins is a middle-aged Hallmark chick flick that makes you wish you were on a Greek vacation (and not, in fact, watching the movie). It's as if a producer saw Mamma Mia! and said, ''Give me that same feeling only easier on the brain!'' The film's star, Nia Vardalos, embraces fluff with something like hunger. Blunt and brassy, with a meticulous windswept mane and an air of officious sexiness, she might be warming up to star in The Arianna Huffington Story.
The movie sets her down in the sunlit splendor of Greece in the hope that the setting reminds us of the resplendent popularity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Vardalos plays Georgia, a former professor of classical history now reduced to the career of world's most boringly academic travel guide. On a sightseeing bus, trying to rev up a pack of rude, dumb, vulgar tourists as they tromp through civilization's ruins, she's supposed to be touchingly uptight and insecure, but Vardalos attacks this wallflower role with the no-nonsense, strictly business eye contact of a talk-show therapist. She might have invented the term charm offensive.
The folks on the bus include a widower (Richard Dreyfuss) who covers his grief with painfully bad jokes about fondling nude statues; a pancake-house executive (Alistair McGowan) who thinks the Temple of Hephaestus looks like an IHOP; a couple (Rachel Dratch and Harland Williams) whose idea of an ancient landmark is the Hard Rock; and the native-born bus driver (Alexis Georgoulis), a burly, bearded bear of a man whose name warning: unspeakable ethnic bathroom joke ahead is Poupi Kakas. The weird thing is, Poupi is the romantic lead. Early on, he shaves his beard, revealing himself to be a kind of Greek Fabio, the sort of salt-of-the-earth pinup that the film thinks a schoolmarm like Georgia needs.
She keeps being told that she's a woman who has lost her kefi that is, her joie de vivre. But if you had been stuck with the bozos on this bus, then you might have lost your kefi too. Directed by Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality), My Life in Ruins is the romantic comedy as fairy tale for cheese addicts, yet I have to admit, the film is so brazen about its pandering, crumple-hearted silliness that it had me rooting for Vardalos to land her big fat Greek stud-muffin. Next time, though, she should serve the kefi on the side. C+