While Hanks’ star still burns bright, he hasn’t exactly been critic-proof in recent years. Back in 2004, his star turns in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal and the Coen brothers’ remake of The Ladykillers were received coolly, at best, by both critics and audiences. Hanks and Roberts have recent success with literary adaptations (Hanks as Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code films, Roberts in Eat Pray Love), but nothing to match their earlier blockbusters. Could a film with both of them on-screen bring back some of the old magic?

Not with Larry Crowne, a fitfully effective romantic comedy that should have been better than it is. Hanks stars as Larry, a longtime worker at retail chain UMart who, lacking a college degree, is let go after being told he has nowhere to go in the organization. Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) is in the midst of her own midlife crisis. Not only does the community-college teacher complain bitterly about having to teach an 8 a.m. class (the horror!), but her marriage has been irreparably ruptured by a husband (Bryan Cranston) who spends his days blogging and looking at pictures of big-breasted women on his computer.

Larry, facing financial problems that include the potential loss of his home, decides to enroll in community college, where he ends up in Mercedes’ speech class. His fellow students include a cadre of different character types who provide comic relief and who slowly come out of their shells. Larry also enrolls in an economics class overseen by a cackling, cell-phone-seizing teacher (George Takei). He’s befriended by Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young woman intent on bringing out a wilder side to the buttoned-down Larry. She invites him to join a scooter gang led by her jealous boyfriend, Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama). What comes of these new relationships? A few chances for the boyfriend to glare suspiciously at Larry whenever Larry innocently looks in Talia’s direction.

Like everything and everyone else in Larry Crowne, Dell Gordo is never a serious threat to Larry. We know Larry will find his way through his thicket of problems. We know he’ll be OK even if he loses his home. We know he’ll end up with Mercedes because—well, because Mercedes is played by Julia Roberts. So it’s little surprise when the film brings the two characters together after a night when Mercedes’ drinking leaves her feeling more uninhibited than usual. The problem is that the romance is unconvincing. Sure, Mercedes is in a bad marriage, but what does she see in Larry? And what does he see in her? Although Mercedes is physically attractive, she’s unremittingly unpleasant toward everyone in her life, including her students. Why is Larry so intent on winning her? Why would Larry kiss the drunken Mercedes, then reject a chance to sleep with her after telling her they need to “do the right thing” morally, only to do a happy dance outside Mercedes’ door because he’d kissed the still-married teacher?

And what, exactly, does the film want to say about the economic crisis? While a movie like Up in the Air tried to show the pain of downsizing and the personal and psychological toll it takes on the people involved, Larry Crowne never seriously invests in the financial impact of downsizing on Larry. Larry’s neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer) comes closest to providing wisdom to Larry, telling him that Larry’s divorce has only complicated his life, and that he should have stayed married. But that character, too, is in the film primarily as comic relief, living off of earlier game-show winnings and the hard bargains he drives as part of an endless yard sale. The character is more about cutting up than he is about doling out life lessons.