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Tom Hanks going nowhere in 'The Terminal.'
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The Terminal

( PG-13 )

Grounded for takeoff: Tom Hanks goes nowhere in Stephen Spielberg's `Terminal'
Review by James Verniere
Friday, June 18, 2004

Despite Steven Spielberg's last-minute nervous tweaking, ``The Terminal'' isn't terminal. I just hope that after 2002's piffle ``Catch Me If You Can'' and now this jumbo shrimp of a movie, he has been cured of his fondness for airports.
      A bland Capra-esque fable about an innocent from Eastern Europe forced to live in the United Airlines terminal at New York's JFK airport by diplomatic red tape, ``The Terminal'' is leading man Tom Hanks' third go-round with Spielberg after ``Saving Private Ryan'' and ``Catch Me If You Can.'' It is clearly a case of diminishing returns.
      Hanks, last seen speaking in a plummy Southern drawl in ``The Ladykillers,'' channels Rocky & Bullwinkle's immortal no-goodnik Boris Badenov as Viktor Navorski of Krakozhia, a mythical republic in political disarray. Without money, U.S. relations or a valid passport, Viktor, like Hanks' character in ``Cast Away,'' must live by his wits and scrounge for food and shelter (the film was shot on an elaborate set built in California). Unlike Hanks' ``Cast Away'' persona, however, Viktor oddly has left no spouse, soulmate or children behind.
      Using matching New York City guidebooks, one in English and one in whatever language Hanks is speaking, Viktor teaches himself English. It doesn't take Viktor long to realize he can sleep in a part of the terminal under repair. (So much for homeland security.) He can also reap a quarter deposit each time he returns a luggage cart to its metal stanchion and eventually earn enough to buy a feast at Burger King, which, judging by the expansion of Hanks' waistline, cannot be a good idea.
      Before you can say ``Super Size Me,'' Viktor is adopted by the airport's tightly knit, generically colorful working-class heroes - combative Hindu cleaning crewman Gupta (Kumar Pallana), romantic Hispanic food-service worker Enrique (Diego Luna of ``Y Tu Mama Tambien''), gruff African-American baggage handler Joe (Chi McBride) - and fed first-class in-flight meals.
      He remains, however, at contrived odds with the Captain Bligh-like airport administrator (screaming skull Stanley Tucci), who keeps an electronic eye on Viktor's movements.
      A talented builder, Viktor gets hired by a company renovating the airport and ends up clearing more cash than his nemesis. Not believable for a moment is Viktor's budding romance with Amelia, a ditsy United Airlines flight attendant played by T-Mobile spokeswoman Catherine Zeta-Jones. Amelia is a loser involved in long-term affair with a rich and powerful married man (Michael Douglas?) who pages her when her presence is required.
      Holy Mel Gibson. By the end of ``The Terminal,'' Viktor, who might have been more believably played by a younger Eastern European actor, has even become a modern-day Christ figure.
      Once upon a time, a film set in an airport might have featured several faux business logos standing in for the real thing. But in this age of meta-consumerism, commercial cross-pollenization and lucrative marketing tie-ins, the logos are all too real. On this level, ``The Terminal'' is so branded by Burger King, Verizon Wireless, Krispy Kreme, Borders Books, Starbucks, Godiva, etc., it's a virtual filmercial.
      Co-written by Jeff Nathanson (``Catch Me If You Can'') and newcomer Sacha Gervasi from a story by Andrew Niccol (``S1mOne''), ``The Terminal'' also recalls the true story of Merhan Nasseri, a delusional Iranian who has lived at Charles de Gaulle airport for 16 years and has been the subject of documentaries and a 1993 French feature starring Jean Rochefort.
      ``The Terminal'' is often entertaining, if extremely slight, and Hanks, though miscast, is good as usual. Zeta-Jones doesn't add anything but doesn't disgrace herself. The trouble here is a failure of vision. Unlike writer-directors or directors who work with the same writers over and over, Spielberg has collaborated with many screenwriters through the years: Robert Rodat (``Saving Private Ryan''), David Franzoni (``Amistad''), Steve Zaillian (``Schindler's List''), David Koepp (``Jurassic Park'') and now Nathanson and Gervasi. One thing has remained constant, however: Spielberg's stubborn determination to take true stories - World War II, slavery, a counterfeiting wiz, a stranded immigrant - and turn them into feel-good mush.
     

( ``The Terminal'' contains profanities. )


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