Cinema Signal:

Steven Spielberg
by Tom Powers
(A&E Biography)

. "The Terminal"

Excuse me, I know it's corny, but I have to say it. After the clever ideas ran out in this immigrant tale and repetition and padding took over, this new-age concept in squatting became interminable. The variation in tedium became tedious. The object lesson in bureaucracy passed into overkill. And, I don't think director Steven Spielberg nor star Tom Hanks intended it that way.

But, I hasten to add, what they did intend came through, and they created a humorous and wry commentary on homeland defense regulation, officious ass-saving bureaucracy, and not a few laughs at the Hanks everyman as he confronts and adapts to an essentially benign set of ironies. Nothing more threatening than that but your interest is held in a pattern of sustained comedic cleverness.

Immigrant Viktor Navorski, a well-intentioned traveler from the state of Krakhozia somewhere, presumably, in the caucases suggesting perhaps Bosnia, upon arrival at JFK airport in NY, finds himself with a visa that has become invalidated by the nation's fall in war. He is nationless and, therefore, in international limbo. The only place terminal director Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) can put him is in the international lounge.

That's until things are sorted out at home, which could take a day, a week, a month. Vicktor makes do. He loses his food chits but corrals enough baggage wagons for a 25 cent kickback to afford a hamburger, and then a feast of hamburgers. He's resourceful, a survivor, but not endearing to the competitive, ambitious airport bureaucrat. Dixon tries to dupe him into setting foot outside the terminal so that he can be nabbed by another agency for committing a crime. Navorski outwits the nitwit every time, with due comedic satisfaction.

Flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), meanwhile, meets her boyfriend on her various swings through town as she plies the skies and falls into a friendship with Viktor that leads to a romantic spark and a few more self-deprecating laughs along the way.

Zoe Saldana is a standout as an officious INS agent with a warm heart. Zeta-Jones has never looked better or acted more naturally. Tucci is splendidly more than a match for the by-the-book sycophants among us but not without his abundantly sharp timing. Hanks... is Hanks, vintage. And, Spielberg does well, though he unfortunately stretched the premise more than its capacity. The overbooking gave me an itch to take off on the next flight out.

The humor and ironies are kept in view in a conspiratorially playful way that brings us into it, and it provides nice, light entertainment for all viewing audiences.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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