2004-07-09 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

‘The Terminal’ –

Lost In Transportation

Nothing is more boring than being stuck at an airport. With "The Terminal," super director Steven Spielberg is attempting to do the impossible: Squeeze excitement out of a year in airport limbo. It’s a mission more suicidal than the one in "Saving Private Ryan." And once again the film master enlists double Oscar-winner Tom Hanks as a safeguard against ennui.

Geniuses that they are Spielberg and Hanks are somewhat successful in their effort, although the light entertainment level falls far below that of their earlier airport-oriented comedy, "Catch Me If You Can." The difference is that "Catch Me" has a fascinating story based on a true-life con artist. Written by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, "The Terminal" concept is dead on arrival, though it does possess a kernel of reality (an Iranian was trapped in a Paris airport for more than a year after the fall of the shah).

Viktor Navorski (Hanks) is holed up at JFK terminal after his Eastern Bloc country, Krakozhia, is closed after a coup. Deprived of a visa and a valid passport, Viktor literally doesn’t know if he’s coming or going, thanks to Home Security bureaucrat Frank Dixon ( Stanley Tucci), who runs the airport like the Nazi commandant from "Schindler’s List."  Every day, pretty immigration officer Delores (Zoë Saldana) stamps Viktor’s daily passport denial, as Dixon urges him to exit  into America, where he’ll get arrested and become "someone else’s problem."

The question is…could such a bureaucratic snafu really happen in the land of Lady Liberty? Possibly for a few hours, but no way would an illegal émigré be allowed to set up house and home at an airport in these post-9/11 times.

Neil Simon’s "The Out of Towners" (the Jack Lemon-Sandy Dennis version) shows that comedy can erupt from the red-tape reality to which everyone can relate (unexpected hotel cancellations, stolen wallets, etc.). Viktor’s dilemma is too implausible … Spielberg’s in Never-Never Land, not New York.

Despite (or because of) his thick Krakozhian accent, Viktor develops into a folk hero amongst the airport workers. He enables a non-English-speaking foreigner to bring life-saving prescription drugs through customs for his dying father (the drugs are for a goat, Viktor translates, not a human, which makes them legal). He plays matchmaker to shy food-service worker Enrique (Diego Luna) and Delores. Viktor, himself, falls for beautiful fight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who, in the type of role once played by Shirley MacLaine, is tired of being maltreated by married men.

The result is that Spielberg’s airport transforms into a mini-utopia, with Viktor as its messiah. The comedy of frustration is sacrificed for a feel-good finale that’s artificial. Hanks’ approach to portraying the émigré is to make him innocent and uncorrupted, much like his mentally-delayed "Forrest Gump" character. Again, we’re in Never-Never Land. "The Terminal" simply doesn’t take off. Now clobbered by "Dodgeball" at the box office, the only way it will fly is as an in-flight movie.

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