Tom Hanks impressed critics with his Broadway debut in "Lucky Guy," Nora Ephron's final play, but the late Hollywood writer and director did not fare so well with her newsroom-set drama that opened on Monday night.
As tabloid journalist Mike McAlary, who won a Pulitzer Prize covering New York police scandals and lurid crimes for the Daily News and New York Post, Hanks rewards audiences "with a committed, generous performance by the real-deal star," Entertainment Weekly said.
The Hollywood Reporter said Hanks, a two-time Oscar winner already seen as a Tony Award frontrunner for his work in the play, "is not afraid to make the character an abrasive jerk, yet the actor's innate integrity ensures that we feel for Mike when he takes some hard knocks."
McAlary was a hard-drinking, hard-living reporter who died young, at 41, from cancer in 1998.
"Although he hasn't trod the boards in years, the affable movie star takes to the stage like a fish to water," Variety said about Hanks, whose stage acting had been limited to small Shakespeare productions in the 1970s.
But critics were less enthusiastic about Ephron's play. "Although it's heartfelt, the show is a hodgepodge. Long-winded and overly linear, it skates along on a just-the-facts-ma'am surface like a typical TV movie," the Daily News said.
The New York Post, where Ephron worked for several years early in her career in the 1960s, said, "The show springs from her deep affection for the trade and its ink-stained wretches." It described the play as a fun, entertaining eulogy.
Like most, the New York Times liked Hanks' work more than the play itself. "Hanks is always gamely and industriously present to act as an animated illustration for [McAlary's] tales," the newspaper said. "But he's not given much room to be more." It added that the play "turns out to be little more than the sum of its anecdotes," and "often feels only newsprint deep," in contrast with Ephron's sharp film and essay writing.
Entertainment Weekly described the play as "inconsequential and dramatically inert" and a "dull, stalled play about a not-particularly-noteworthy mug with a flair for self-promotion."
The Hollywood Reporter gave the play a split decision, saying that while it was by no means exceptional drama and not exactly packed with complexity, it was "intelligently written, engrossing and laced with crackling humor."
Hanks had a long collaboration with Ephron, including hit films such as "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail." Ephron died in June at the age of 71 of complications from leukemia. Hanks and wife Rita Wilson spoke at her memorial service.
The reviews, in the end, could prove to be irrelevant. In its first week of previews, the play took in more $1 million, along the lines of hits such as "The Book of Mormon," "The Lion King" and "Wicked." But critics noted that prospects outside New York, or without Hanks in the starring role, were uncertain. Ephron's 2002 Broadway play, "Imaginary Friends," closed after a short run.