Cast Away Again
Tom Hanks is a man without a country stuck in an airport. Steven Spielberg is a director without a destination caught trying to stretch a curious premise, borrowed from real life, into a fable about the immigrant dream. In The Terminal, he knits together patches of comedy, pathos, political commentary, and romance to create an interminable and finally inconsequential movie. There's no thematic focal point in the screenplay, credited to Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, and so Spielberg takes refuge in his favorite subject -- the bond between father and son.
Hanks gives a competent but risk-free performance as Viktor Navorski, an Everyman figure from a fictional Eastern European country called Krakozia rendered a citizen of nowhere. The story mirrors the plight of an Iranian refugee who has called Paris- Charles De Gaulle airport home for almost sixteen years. Navorski lands at New York's JFK airport to find there's been a coup in Krakozia while he was in the air. His passport and visa are no longer valid. He's nation-less. Or as the tyrannical immigration official played by Stanley Tucci puts it, "unacceptable."
The Terminal offers muted political commentary on the alleged erosion of freedoms and legal rights linked to the Patriot Act and by association (and thanks to a shot of its logo) the Department of Homeland Security. "America is closed" is repeated a number of times. But it's hard to draw political lessons from the bureaucratic snafu, or anything very substantial from the unusual situation it would seem.
The story of displacement has promise as a manifesto for the little guy, the lonely working stiff oppressed by ridiculous rules and regulations. There's no follow through there. A scene of genuine pathos when Viktor weeps watching disturbing news from his homeland on TV is left dangling. The jokes, both of a linguistic and physical ilk, are pretty good though not original enough to make this a formidable comedy. An Indian janitor who likes to watch people slip on his freshly mopped floors represents an absurdist vein that isn't tapped.
The movie doesn't go all the way with schmaltzy sentiment either. Two main romantic storylines die on the vine. Viktor falls for a shallow flight attendant played with an appropriate "Stepford Wife" plasticity by Catherine Zeta-Jones. She turns out to be a stinker, and any feeling is undercut. And Viktor acts as the intermediary for a food service worker (Diego Luna) who fancies an immigration officer (Zoe Saldana). That situation is sewn up before it gets interesting.
The battle-of-wills between Tucci's INS official and Navorski winds down implausibly. Above all, the mystery surrounding the purpose of Navorski's visit disappoints. The key is inside a can of Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts he clutches and involves a promise to his father, who loved that all-American art form jazz.
Holding Spielberg to a high standard is legitimate. Making an engrossing picture that takes place inside the International Transit lounge of an airport is a challenge you expect him to meet. A handful of scenes are effective in isolation. The Terminal just doesn't hold together overall -- to the extent that Viktor proves not to be a very interesting character. He's a cipher, a blank, and so is the movie.
(Released by DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for brief language and drug references.)