By Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
Could the oft-ridiculed form of transportation become accepted in America's movie-land?
Hollywood has learned to embrace the motorcycle for adventure along with the Prius to save the planet (and for cheaper fuel bills) ? shouldn't the scooter, which encompasses all of these points, now have its place in the spotlight?
With the scooter-heavy Larry Crowne opening Friday, it might be now or never. Hanks, a veritable Mayor of Moped-land, is leading the charge in more ways than one.
"We should all be on these scooters, Los Angeles should look like Taipei," he beamed. "Hey it's dirt cheap and you have the wind blowing through your hair on a beautiful day like today."
Hanks plays a man forced to ride a scooter in tough economic times in his romantic comedy with Julia Roberts. But he backs the role up as a proud owner of $3,200 Genuine Buddy in real life.
His support mirrors a national trend of scooter sales which directly follows the prices of gas. The Motorcycle Industry Council reports that when gas prices spiked in 2008, scooter sales hit an all-time high. Sales are hot again nationally in 2011, up 50 percent in the first quarter year-over-year.
Actors Zach Galifianakis and David Duchovny are just a couple of Hollywood's recent converts to the mode of transportation.
But not everyone in Hollywood is convinced that scooters are practical. Rita Wilson politely declined to join her husband on the ride so she could appropriately bling-out for the premiere. The casually-dressed Hanks, she lovingly pointed out, looked like he was going to be attending "a basketball game."
When asked if a man can still be cool and ride a scooter, Wilson answered carefully as her husband looked on.
"I think you can be scooter cool," she said slowly. "But you have to see beyond the helmet. Not even Brad Pitt looks good in these helmets."
Hanks helmet looks particularly goofy in Larry Crowne. But Philip McCaleb, owner of Chicago's Genuine Scooter who provided scooters for Crowne, says there are far better looking helmets. Hanks was "embracing his inner dork" with his selection, he says.
But still others on the Crowne's red carpet were less diplomatic about scooter's potential to dazzle Tinsel-town. Crowne co-star Rob Riggle pondered for a moment what it would take to get him on a Vespa.
"If I was being chased by some sort of large animal that was faster than me," he finally said, "then yes, absolutely, a Vespa would be an option."
But none of this naysaying could stifle the enthusiastic Hanks from spreading the good word from his premiere bully pulpit. He even tried to convert pal Larry David by shouting across the red carpet about the scooter's ability to maneuver LA's notorious traffic.
"How bad was it on Sunset and the 405 on the way here?" asked Hanks loudly. "You know, you really should have come in a scooter."
David smiled, waved a dismissive hand and walked into the movie. Hanks has his work cut out for him.