Wonder what the Greek words are for corny, hackneyed and flat. Because those are all applicable, too.
Vardalos tries to recreate the unexpected magic that resulted from the 2002 sleeper smash "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which made her a star and earned her an Oscar nomination for her screenplay. Although she didn't write the script this time -- that's the dubious work of former "Simpsons" writer and producer Mike Reiss -- "My Life in Ruins" strives for the same sort of affectionately teasing ethnic humor. Instead, it feels like an uncomfortable parade of Borscht belt gags and lame stereotypes.
Vardalos stars as Georgia, a Greek-American tour guide living an uptight life in Athens. She always gets stuck with the obnoxious tourists while her rival, the smarmy Nico (Alistair McGowan), gets the beautiful women and polite Canadians. And all the broad, overly familiar types are on display: the drunk Australians, the prissy Brits, the loud Americans, the saucy Spanish divorcees. There's even a self-important executive -- from the International House of Pancakes -- who's constantly talking on his cell phone.
These people are spectacularly unfunny, especially under the overly jaunty direction of Donald Petrie ("Miss Congeniality," "Just My Luck"), who can't even make the Greek scenery appealing enough to redeem this thing.
With her love of history, Georgia wants to share the glory of the country's ancient ruins and tell their stories; all her tacky travelers want to do is shop and eat ice cream. But this being a contrived romantic comedy, Georgia naturally finds love where she least expects it: right on her tour bus, with the long-haired, unkempt driver, who's been saddled with the unfortunate name of Poupi Kakas (Alexis Georgoulis).
Go ahead, say it out loud to yourself. Then try to contain the sidesplitting laughter.
Also among her tour group is Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), a widower who brings his own hammy brand of comedy. But he also brings canned wisdom ("You're looking for obstacles rather than looking for magic," he advises Georgia) as well as some melodrama, as he experiences images of his deceased wife. She's played by Rita Wilson, an executive producer on the film who also helped shepherd "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" to the screen.
Basically, the whole structure here is episodic, with Georgia schlepping her group from one site to the next, trying to spark their interest, failing miserably, then planting them in some seedy hotel for the night. At some point, out of nowhere, she realizes she might be interested in this Poupi Kakas fellow after all, and poof! She lets her hair down, literally, and all of a sudden the tourists are on her side.
Vardalos never gets a chance to let her down-to-earth likability shine through: She's either stuffy or sappy, without much nuance in between. It's as if the woman from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," with all her relatable flaws and charms, has been wiped away with the Windex.
"My Life in Ruins," a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content. Running time: 96 minutes. Zero stars out of four.