As she demonstrated in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos has eyes like black olives and humor twice as salty. In My Life in Ruins, a salt-free Vardalos is Georgia, an unemployed classics scholar working as a tour guide in Greece on the Acropolis-to-Temple-of-Apollo circuit.
In the film that means to be My Slimmed-Down Greek Retreading, once the starchy academic sheds her stiff blazer and stiffer lectures, she finds her kefi, a Greek word that roughly corresponds to mojo. (From Summertime to Under the Tuscan Sun, it is the law in movies of this type that rigid American women must go to Europe to learn flexibility.)
Summery and scenic, Ruins is this season's Mamma Mia!, a diversion that dispenses the wisdom: Let go, let live, and let love. Not bad advice, and not a bad movie, exactly. But not as good as Greek Wedding, which Vardalos herself wrote. And which, unusually for an American movie, embraced the eccentricities of all of its characters.
Not so Mike Reiss' script for Ruins, which takes aim at stereotypes for six reels and in the seventh belatedly sees the humanity in them. Reiss and director Donald Petrie confect the movie like a baklava: nutty on top, and honey-sweet inside. But the result of their efforts is soggy rather than crisp.
There are the sozzled Australian travelers, outgoing Canadians, uptight Brits, obnoxious Americans, and Spanish divorcees who have given up on men but are still looking. And, of course, there is Georgia, the brainiac tour guide out of touch with her body - and the travel needs of her charges.
As Irv, an American widower, Richard Dreyfuss supplies nonstop color commentary meant to be ticklish but is more often than not prickly. Irv sees what Georgia is blind to: that she has an admirer in Poupi (Alexis Gorgeous, I mean, Georgoulis), the shaggy bus driver. Unshaven, he looks like Sasquatch; shaven, a Greek god.
Through it all, Vardalos is a trouper, with a distinctive screen presence and delayed-reaction timing. When the Canadian tourists tell the reborn Georgia that she looks just like Angelina Jolie, the expression on Vardalos' face is indescribable. Her bemusement is our amusement.