THE TERMINAL *
CAST: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones,
Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka-Henley, Gupta
Rajan, Zoe Saldana, Eddie Jones, Jude Ciccolella, Corey Reynolds,
Gillermo Diaz, Rini Bell, Stephen Mendel, Valera Nikolaev, Michael
Nouri, Benny Golson
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITERS: Sacha Gervasi and Jeff
Navorski, the sweet, polite, childlike Eastern European played by
Tom Hanks in Steven Spielbergs new movie, has come to New
York on a very special personal mission. That mission, however,
may never be accomplished.
Why not? Because some time between Viktors
take-off from his home turf and his arrival at New Yorks JFK
International Airport, a bloody coup has erupted and his country
is no longer considered a bona fide country.
As a result, he is informed by a security chief at JFK that his
passport is invalid and he will not be permitted to walk through
the terminal doors and into the streets of his vividly longed-for
New York. Since Viktor knows only a few words in English, he misses
a few of the essentials of this ice-cold secureaucrats message,
including the bit about the war that is currently tearing his homeland
apart. Nevertheless, he is nervously aware that things are not going
Shaken but still polite, he clutches his suitcase and the food vouchers
hes been handed by the security stiff and walks in a daze
amid crass, pushy, self-absorbed Americans. Its at this point
that he receives a truly major jolt. Looking up at a row of huge
TV screens, he sees images of his native land--dark, swirling scenes
of violence and bloodshed. The sight nearly unhinges him. In a panic,
he pounds on one of the screens and shrieks at the incomprehensible
news announcer. Babbling in a Russian-ish language, he pleads with
people rushing by to tell him what the TV voices are saying, to
explain to him what on earth is happening in his beloved country.
To these mean-faced travelers, however, Viktor seems just another
crazed, possibly dangerous foreignersomeone best avoided.
In this crowd, in this country he thought he would love, he finds
himself totally, frighteningly alone.
The extraordinary mixture of anguish and grief and terror conveyed
by Tom Hanks in this sequence is so powerful that we feel certain
were about to be drawn into an overwhelming experience, a
piercing indictment of contemporary society, that nightmare world
where there is little tenderness, mercy or compassion.
But "The Terminal" turns out be a nightmare of an altogether
different kind. Director Spielberg, who served Hanks so well in
"Saving Private Ryan" and "Catch Me If You Can,"
shortchanges his star with a wobbly vehicle (provided by screenwriters
Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson) that quickly sinks to the lowest
level of sitcom humor, trite optimism and knee-jerk patriotism.
All the people who viewed Viktor with such disdain during his early
days at JFK prove to be exceptionally generous members of the Big
Melting Pot over the ensuing months (or is it years?) of his residency.
Were talking here about the supposedly hilarious janitor from
India who deliberately causes passengers to do pratfalls on slippery
floors (hes a mensch at heart, of course); the timid young
Mexican food-worker who keeps Viktor chubby in return for his help
in the wooing of a gorgeous customs agent; a jolly African-American
airport employee who organizes after-hours poker games played not
for money but for unclaimed baggage; and numerous other lovable
goofs who assist Viktor in his efforts to build a snazzy secret
apartment in the terminal (talk about security!); to bed a spicy
flight attendant who has skidded into his life across a slippery
floor (forget that Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones have about as
much chemistry as Ben and J. Lo in "Gigli"); and, finally,
to achieve his personal mission (it has something to do with that
Planters peanuts can he cradles like a baby, but dont expect
me to reveal his cornball secret). As this band of Good Samaritans
gathers around Viktor and cheers him on to Capraesque triumph, a
lump may or may not swell up in your throat, causing you to gag
if not wretch.
If there is a point to this interminable "Terminal," I
missed it. For me, its simply a missed connection.