Posted by Matt on Sun, 06/20/2004 - 9:57pm.
The Terminal (2004) (1 1/2 stars,

Has Steven Spielberg been possessed by Nora Ephron, the patron saint of sappy movies (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle)? It sure looks that way in The Terminal, a tedious schmaltz-fest that feels more like the work of the cinematically challenged Ephron than the supremely gifted Spielberg. Despite the valiant efforts of Tom Hanks, The Terminal is neither touching nor charming. And while it's obvious that a lot of time and money went into the film's production, there's little spark to this Capra-esque dramedy, which completely wastes the talents of Catherine Zeta-Jones in a badly conceived and written role. Only in a couple of scenes does the movie glimmer with wit and energy before sinking back into predictability. A HUGE disappointment given the A-list caliber of the talent involved, The Terminal is probably the least entertaining film Spielberg has made since the sappy clunker Always (1989).

Very loosely based on a true story, The Terminal casts Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a New York City-bound tourist from the Eastern European country of Krakozhia. Upon arriving at JFK International Airport, Viktor learns that rebels have overthrown Krakozhia's government. Since the U.S. government does not recognize the rebel government, JFK security official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) confiscates Viktor's passport and orders him to remain in the terminal. Although he's penniless and barely speaks English, Viktor gradually adapts to life in the airport—much to the growing anger of the rabidly ambitious Dixon, who makes it his mission to get Viktor deported. Viktor, however, refuses to leave before he can legally enter the U.S. to honor a family promise. Making his extended stay a little sweeter is Amelia (Zeta-Jones), a beautiful and insecure flight attendant initially unaware of Viktor's predicament. With her support and the help of a colorful cadre of airport workers, Viktor ultimately finds the strength to challenge Dixon.

All the elements are present in The Terminal for a whimsical and bittersweet "fish out of water" comedy, the kind of movie that Frank Capra excelled at making during his thirties-era heyday. Yet The Terminal rarely, if ever, comes alive. This is partly due to the film's overly long running time—the screenplay stretches this reed-thin scenario to 131 minutes—but it's the uncertain tone, tepid banter, and poorly developed characters that finally derail The Terminal. You keep waiting for the story to transport you, to sweep you up into the characters' lives, but there's so very little surprise or dramatic tension in the movie that your interest wanes quickly, long before Viktor's saga inches towards its foregone conclusion.

As for the frustrating, stop-start romance between Hanks and Zeta-Jones, the stars have one charming scene together—a romantic candlelit dinner catered by three airport workers (played by Chi McBride, Diego Luna, and Kumar Pallana). Regrettably, the screenwriters undercut the characters' romance by turning Zeta-Jones' character into a self-help cliché right out of Smart Women, Foolish Choices. That wouldn't be so bad if Spielberg and his screenwriters had given Zeta-Jones an opportunity to develop Amelia into more than simply just another thirtysomething single woman who always dates married men. The actress does what she can with her limited role, but her character is basically incidental to the narrative, which is fairly standard for most of the women in Spielberg's films, save for The Sugarland Express (1974) and The Color Purple (1985).

The Terminal is the third and weakest film Tom Hanks has made with Spielberg, the others being Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Catch Me If You Can (2002). Even in this sub-par film, the actor is impressive; a movie star to the core and terrifically versatile. Usually hailed as the new James Stewart, Hanks also evokes the quiet strength and subtlety of the late Spencer Tracy, one of those great stars you never caught "acting." For their next collaboration, let's hope that he and Spielberg find a project worthier of their talents and our time than the interminable Terminal.
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