Tom Hanks finds a new niche with ‘A Man Called Otto’

Dennis Hudson
Dennis Hudson

Grandma will love “A Man Called Otto.”

There, Tom Hanks plays the neighbor who complains about people who don’t obey rules, who meddle in others’ business and who exchange pleasantries when they don’t really mean them.

He’s Clint Eastwood’s character in “Gran Torino” — a senior who doesn’t like what’s going on in the world around him.

Since his wife died, Otto has realized there’s no place for him in a changing world and, so, he decides to check out. Buying just enough rope to hang himself (and not an inch more), he sets up his exit and, then, a new neighbor comes calling.

For much of the film, it’s a matter of Hank’s Otto Anderson plotting and the acquaintances thwarting the plot.

Hardly original, “A Man Called Otto” borrows from dozens of earlier film (including the Swedish original, “A Man Called Ove”) but does give Mariana Trevino a great showcase.

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She’s the new neighbor, Marisol, who calls on Otto repeatedly (and saves his life). The two become friends and, soon, he’s teaching her how to drive a car. One of Otto’s wife’s former students reaches out, too, landing him in the same fold. A cat crawls in and, before you know it, Otto has a community that depends on him. A development company (with a suspicious name) tries to run residents out of the neighborhood and won’t put up with the crusty old man’s defenses.

Toss in a social media journalist, an old frenemy and a bunch of flashbacks and you have the stuff of which a senior film is made.

Hanks does fine with what he’s handed; Marc Forster’s direction is nothing special. But there are flashbacks that involve Hanks’ real son Truman as his younger self and a song, written by wife Rita Wilson, that helps make this a real family affair.

Because much of “Otto” is told in vignettes, there’s no real plot, just a slow thaw. Hanks leans into Otto’s desire for precision. He shovels his walk as soon as it snows, keeps his house uber-tidy and insists others follow rules.

When Marisol, her husband and their children embrace him in ways he couldn’t imagine, “Otto” finds its tears. Food is the way to his heart; family is his soft spot. Even that oh-so-cute cat claws his way in. While Forster overemphasizes plot points, he ensures the intended outcome.

“A Man Called Otto” isn’t much, just the first of a string of films pitched at a specific audience. Hanks doesn’t seem ready to be playing these roles, but he handles it precisely.

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Dennis Hudson
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