The Terminal (2004) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief language and drug references (I'd rate it PG)
Running Time: 128 min.


Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna, Chi McBride, Barry Shabaka Henley, Kumar Pallana, Zoe Saldana
Director: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay: Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson
Review published June 20, 2004

Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan) follows up one of his lighter films, Catch Me If You Can, with an even frothier affair in The Terminal, another film inspired by a true story catapulted to the realm of the fantastic through the visionary director's drive for turning everyday events into fairy tales.  Once again, he works with script by Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour 2, For Better or Worse), and no surprise, it's the weakest element here, and testament to Spielberg's greatness as a populist director, he actually manages to make this farfetched and silly premise work somehow.

Tom Hanks (The Green Mile, Cast Away) plays Viktor Navorski, a travels to New York from his fictional homeland of Krakozhia, an Eastern Block country that has had a military coup and an overturned government overnight.  As the United States doesn't recognize the new regime as a country, Viktor's VISA and passport are seen as invalid and he is therefore "unacceptable" to set foot on American soil, or to return back to the country that is no longer there.  Frank Dixon (Tucci, Big Night) has just been given the responsibility of running the airport, and seeing the solution-less dilemma, allows Viktor to stay in the airport until he can legally enter New York or be deported.  Dixon hopes Viktor will become impatient and try to escape, so that he can get him out of his hair, but Viktor waits patiently, determined to stick it out no matter how long it takes.  Meanwhile, Viktor develops feelings into a frequently visiting attractive flight attendant (Zeta-Jones, Chicago), while also befriending some of the staff of the airport who all have stories of their own.

The Terminal is an amusing and entertaining dessert flick, and while it is set in the real world, it's about as much a fantasy as any of Spielberg's sci-fi or fantasy endeavors.  The entire story is a series of unlikely occurrences, convenient contrivances, and manipulative plotting, completely running on a river of charm and its own good-natured affability.  We like The Terminal because we like Hanks, who gives Viktor a shy vulnerability and inner strength that makes us care about his plight, no matter how silly things sometimes end up being.  Just as important, John Williams (Superman, Star Wars) fanciful score continually evokes the feeling of mirth and whimsy necessary, cluing the audience in that magical things can, and often do, happen throughout the course of this chimerical tale.

While Spielberg does manage to keep the story afloat, this is middling stuff coming from him, lumping it around the level of Always and The Sugarland Express in his otherwise superior filmography.  There are a few missteps that detract from the overall experience.  The courting of Zeta-Jones is an unnecessary story element, and never convincing.  The side stories involving two others on the staff played by Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Saldana (Crossroads) fares even worse.  Tucci is given the role as the heavy, supposedly authoritarian in his resolve, yet he wavers between heartlessness and benevolence whenever the plotting calls for it, used merely as a device for conflict rather than as an honest characterization.  Lastly, the product placement in this film is about as shameful as it gets, flagrantly showcased in almost every scene to the point where you wonder if this film weren't merely a disguised advertising vehicle, with a thin story to tie the commercials together.

Despite the substantial flaws, The Terminal does still entertain enough to recommend.  There's a little romance, a little comedy, a little drama, and a lot of geniality, such that, even if the film runs a bit long and doesn't really have much to say, it's a pleasant experience to get your mind away from the doldrums of life for a while.  For a film about a man that can't go anywhere, this is still a pleasant trip in itself. 

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo