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The Terminal
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"Spielberg's New Film, Terminally Bland"


For his latest outer galaxy opus, Steven Spielberg transports us to a world where the bad are very evil and the good are so pure, they glow. In this magical world, the environment is pristine and an abundance of product placement keeps the colors bright and the food familiar. Every inhabitant lives with a secret diabolical enough to be blackmailed at the appropriate moments. For even though this alien world is called New York-JFK Airport, "The Terminal" resembles no reality seen on this planet, other than in a Frank Capra film.
Everyman Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European who arrives in New York during a revolution in his country. Being the member of an unrecognized country, Viktor has been prevented from leaving the airport for the United States or return to his now non-existent country. Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), a Bureaucrat stationed at the airport, sees Viktor as a liability. Up for a promotion, Frank wants Viktor out of his hair. He doesn't care what happens to Viktor as long as he's someone else's problem. He slyly implies to Viktor that when the guards change, there will be no one protecting the border from Viktor's defection. Viktor either doesn't understand the subtlety or is too moral to escape. To Frank's dismay, Viktor remains in the terminal.


For months, Viktor builds a life inside the international terminal's confines. He creates a makeshift bed at a deserted gate, barters for food and finally wins a job with the construction department. Frustrated by Viktor's resolve, Frank places obstacles in Viktor's way throughout this odyssey, but Viktor manages to persevere regardless. Viktor even discovers love with a flighty flight attendant (Catherine Zeta Jones). But despite his patience, Viktor has a mission, and he will not return home until he's accomplished it in New York City.


Since airport security observes Viktor on television monitors all day, even taking bets on when he'll leave, it should come as no surprise that "The Terminal"'s story came from the mind of "Truman Show" creator, Andrew Niccol. The script's greatest liability is it's simplified morality of the protagonist and antagonist. Tucci and Hanks portray mirror reflections of each other. Both have amazing power of deductions. We witness Frank expose smugglers with the ease of Sherlock Holmes and Viktor turn a vacant wall into a gushing fountain. But one has a soul, one doesn't. Hanks egoless character is inhuman. So brimming with goodness, you half expect him to urinate Holy Water. Tucci's character's cold-bloodedly blackmails Viktor at a time when he has nothing to neither win nor lose. He's pure cruelty, the kind of person who pulls wings off butterflies.


The script by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson is also unclear about Viktor's comprehension of his situation. At first, he appears to know no English, and yet, in the same sequence, he can read the television monitor and understands that he's been handed food vouchers. He's a clever, talented carpenter, but at times, the script treats him like Forest Gump.


I did buy Viktor's ingenuity at learning English by reading two guidebooks simultaneously, one in Russian, the other in English.
The script does benefit from rich supporting cast including a flight attendant who's a history buff and a janitor with the ability to juggle plates.


Many Spielberg trademarks have been stamped on the project. Motifs including fathers, flashlights and mirror shots can be recognized as the Spielberg touch. The script also contains the standard smarmy government characters (Frank), dripping sentimentality and hero-worshipping
What we lose is the Spielberg magic. Despite the fantasy version of JFK created, with a Daily Grill, La Salsa and Borders, there's not enough whimsy or Spielberg inventiveness.
There's one moment worthy of Spielberg's direction. Viktor needs a suit to impress Amelia (Zeta Jones). He stands outside the Hugo Boss store and the reflection of his head floats over the suits, giving us an impression of how he'll look in each. But for the most part, any director could have rolled the cameras.


The acting is solid from the entire cast. Hanks lends his natural charm to Viktor making him utterly watchable. Zeta Jones couldn't keep her accent straight, but she gets extra credit for mocking the rumor that she's older than reported in a delicious inside joke.
Despite the nitpicking, I found myself enjoying the film regardless. I could recognize manipulative contrivances slamming into me like Mac trucks, but still laughed throughout the film. So did I enjoy it in spite of itself or did I merely get trapped in the goo left by Spielberg at the theater door? Was I brainwashed? Grade: C+

 
 
 
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