Tom Hanks acts grumpy but deep down is a pussycat in...

Tom Hanks acts grumpy but deep down is a pussycat in "A Man Called Otto." Credit: AP/Niko Tavernise

PLOT A cantankerous widower finds an unlikely friend in a new neighbor.

CAST Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Truman Hanks

RATED PG-13 (some adult themes)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE It’s sentimentalism by the numbers in this do-over of a 2015 Swedish hit.

In 2015, “A Man Called Ove” told the story of a grumpy widower who encounters an unexpected ray of sunshine in the form of his new Iranian neighbor. Based on a bestselling novel, the movie blended sappy sentiment with dark humor to become both a smash in its native Sweden and a sleeper hit in America. A Hollywood adaptation seemed inevitable: All that was needed was a marketable replacement for the original lead, Rolf Lassgård.

Enter Tom Hanks, in “A Man Called Otto.” With that beloved star on board, this is a project that sells itself — or would have, had director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”) and screenwriter David Magee (“Mary Poppins Returns”) stayed truer to their source material. Instead, like many an Americanized foreign title, “A Man Called Otto” fixes what wasn’t broke and breaks what was working. Despite Hanks’ enduring charm and a (mostly) strong supporting cast, “A Man Called Otto” wavers unsteadily between somber drama and trivial comedy.

The story’s outline remains intact. Otto, now based in suburban Pittsburgh, is still the local grouch, yelling at his neighbors and snarling at their dogs. Just when this wretched creature is about to hang himself, he’s distracted by a couple moving in across the street: Mexican immigrant Marisol (a lively Mariana Treviño) and her husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Ruflo). A pattern is set: Otto’s subsequent suicide attempts will be fatefully interrupted, often by a perky and very pregnant Marisol, until he rediscovers the soft spot in his heart. He’ll even reconnect with his estranged friends Reuben and Anita (Peter Lawson Jones and Juanita Jennings).

Like the original, “A Man Called Otto” unfolds partly in flashbacks, but this time they detract from the story. The young Otto is played by Hanks’ son Truman Hanks, making his acting debut, and there’s no nice way to say this: With his deer-in-the-headlights expression and unfocused delivery, he nearly sinks the movie. Rather than flesh out Otto’s character, these scenes make us wonder what anyone ever saw in the guy. (Rachel Keller does her best as his young wife, Sonya.)

One reason the whole story feels too pat is because Otto is too nice. His Swedish counterpart was a tad bigoted and xenophobic, but not Otto. He calls people “idiots” and even gets a little violent, but he never utters a slur or makes a distasteful wisecrack. In fact, he fairly jumps at the chance to take in a homeless transgender kid (Mack Bayda). Ugliness wouldn't sit well on Hanks in any case; perhaps Clint Eastwood would have made a better choice? At any rate, with Otto’s roughest edges sanded off, his transformation becomes less interesting to watch. That’s emblematic of the whole movie: It checks all the right boxes, yet somehow misses the larger point.

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