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Story last updated at 8:25 a.m. Sunday, June 20, 2004

'Terminal' offers plenty of the sweet life
BY BILL THOMPSON
Of The Post and Courier Staff

With each passing year, Tom Hanks' screen persona makes him the Henry Fonda of his era, an easy-going, good-humored, All-American guy with the common touch who wins the day with determination and decency.

No less so in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal," a sweet, utterly charming fable in the Capra tradition. Add a dollop of "E.T." and a trace of "Castaway." It's a movie brimming with gentle spirits and characters that work despite their contrivances.

While the plot of this comedy-drama is thin, to say the least, and little of moment happens over the course of its two hours, the story is nevertheless so winsome, so involving, you hardly notice -- thanks to a light hand on the controls by the director and an endearing performance from Hanks that is sentimental in the best way, not to mention funny and touching.

Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man who arrives in New York just as a civil war breaks out in his homeland of Krakozhia. A coup has displaced the government recognized by the United States, which renders Navorski not only a man without a country, but an "undesirable" alien, trapped in the international lounge of JFK Airport by the ambitious Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), a Homeland Security official in line to ascend to the top job -- if he can pass muster as interim chief. Navorski, forced to take up residence in the terminal itself, is the ultimate man who's fallen between the cracks.

For Dixon, that crack is not deep enough. Dixon wants him out by whatever means, but being a stickler for rules and regs, there's little he can do as Navorski gradually wins friends and supporters and even lands a contracting job.

Other than food service worker Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), the immigration cop who is the object of Cruz's affections, Dolores Torres (Zoe Saldana), and a coterie of other airport employees, Navorski wins the regard of veteran flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Warren, unlucky in love, is drawn to Navorski's simplicity, lack of guile, and respectful manner. Eventually she, and we, learn why he has come to New York in the first place, and why it means so much to him.

But if you are expecting a conventional romantic ending, that plane's never going to leave the tarmac. It is precisely because "The Terminal" sidesteps some (if not all) of the more obvious conventions that helps set it apart.

Spielberg has been mixing it up of late, alternating between hard-edged science fiction ("A.I." and "Minority Report") and such films as "Catch Me If You Can." Here, he has the good sense not to trowel on the schmaltz too thickly. It's a breezy but careful approach, punctuated with heartfelt moments, that also reflects well on screenwriters Jeff Nathanson and Sacha Gervasi.

Like the fine Capra films of old, there are many professional-grade supporting performances. Zeta-Jones does well with an under-written part and Tucci, as always, plays whatever role he's given to the hilt, though here he's reduced to straight man. Aside from Luna ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") and the meltingly beautiful Saldana ("Drumline"), there's solid work from Chi McBride, Barry Shabaka Henley and the consistently underrated Eddie Jones (as Dixon's retiring boss). Michael Nouri appears in what is essentially a cameo as Warren's married lover.

"The Terminal" may be the sort of movie that fades from memory in short order. But while you're watching it, it's firmly lodged in your affections, and darned near irresistible.

Bill Thompson covers movies and books. Contact him at 937-5707 or bthompson@postandcourier.com.








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