The Basics: A whimsical, warm-hearted tale of a man trapped for nine months at JFK airport after a coup in his homeland negates his visa. Tom Hanks is fabulous under the imaginative direction of Steven Spielberg.
RATED: PG-13, for language and sexual innuendo. 2 hours, 8 minutes.
Despite the glum connotations of its title, The Terminal is a joyous movie. It confirms Steven Spielberg as a personal filmmaker and Tom Hanks as an inventive comic actor.
From Spielberg's perspective, The Terminal points to a happy irony. In 1975, the director's splashy Jaws became the harbinger of effects-filled summer blockbuster fodder. And now, 29 years later, in the most effects-laden summer on record, Spielberg directs one of the season's most human stories.
The film's bless-the-underdog, cheer-the-working-class tone provides an abundance of outlets for the rampant sentimentality of earlier heartfelt efforts. But Spielberg has learned how to monitor his soggier instincts. The Terminal is a seamless blend of whimsy and wit.
The role of Viktor Navorski echoes several Hanks characters. Like Forrest Gump, he's an eternal optimist with a communication barrier, this time caused by linguistics. Like Chuck Noland, he's ''cast away'' — this time on one of the world's most heavily populated islands.
Like Cast Away and Big, The Terminal requires an inventory of physical acting skills. And like Spielberg, Hanks has learned when to issue a restraining order on his own antics. At times Viktor threatens to become too cute, but Hanks brings him back to reality with a touch of human crustiness.
Viktor arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport from his fictitious Eastern European homeland of Krakozhia. Shortly after deplaning, he learns that Krakozhia has been subjected to a political coup and no longer exists. His passport is invalid, and he is a man without a country. He must live within the confines of the terminal until further notice.
He knows very little English, and his first misadventures are done largely in pantomime, reiterating Hanks' prowess as a physical comic actor. He also grunts, gasps and shudders with remarkable range and variety.
Following The Ladykillers' bogus professor, Catch Me If You Can's stoic FBI sad sack and Road to Perdition's kind-hearted assassin, The Terminal offers audiences a return to the Tom Hanks they've most often cherished. You know that Viktor will make friends of almost all the airport working stiffs, but Hanks, Spielberg and the outstanding supporting cast make the experience fresh and spontaneous.
Viktor even enjoys a little romance with glamorous, sad-eyed flight attendant Amelia, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. This is the film's most dangerous section. But the Viktor/Amelia segments are written and directed with restraint and played with charm by Hanks and Zeta-Jones.
In the parade of summer flicks, so many entries are not worth more than a passing nod. The Terminal is one you'll think about — and even want to see again.