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The Terminal

Starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Kumar Pallana, Barry Shabaka Henley, Zoe Saldana
Screenplay by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson
from a story by Andrew Niccol and Sacha Gervasi
Directed by Steven Spielberg

IN SHORT: Average Spielberg. Explanation coming. [Rated PG-13 for brief language and drug references. minutes]

It doesn't happen with the kind of regularity that you could set a watch to but at least once a year we get an eMail or a message asking when Steven Spielberg is going to make a movie without an alien in it. The answer, at least for this writing, is "not this year" . . . and when all was said and done, the The Terminal's final credits rolled and our audience got up and walked out silently. Not silently in the way they couldn't move after seeing Schindler's List. Silent in the way we've seen at average movie after average move. Granted any movie which teams Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks is not your average movie. But the expectations (you) plant with are not met by The Terminal, in which a foreign traveler is stuck inside the International Arrivals Terminal at JFK International Airport in New York. He's got a big reason he needs to get into New York but it doesn't have any time deadline sitting on top of it to build tension in the overall story. The little interactions that spend time while you wait for the Big Reason to reveal itself do only that. They spend time.

Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is this year's alien, from the assumedly Eastern European country of Krakozhia. While Viktor was winging his way into JFK, a military coup was unseating the government of his homeland. While he was making his way off the plane, a civilian coup tossed the military out on its ear and the rest of the world turned its back on the newly liberated country. With an invalid passport and no permission to legally enter the States, Viktor is stuck at JFK, he is told, for maybe a day. Six months on he has made a lot of friends on the night shift . . . baggage handler Joe Mulroy (Chi McBride), food service worker Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), janitor Gupta (Kumar Pallana), customs uniforms Ray Thurman (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Dolores Torres (Zoe Saldana). He also catches the attention of United Airlines flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose romantic problems are fodder for the storyline.

It took us about an hour to figure out exactly what struck us the wrong way about the movie. It's simple: months and months in the New York terminal, and not all of it unknown to the workers and denizens of the terminal, not once does any of the story leak to the press. The logical extension of that thought would probably be enough to derail any story but this is a fantasy tweaked by Spielberg so, instead of using the inquiring minds of the fourth estate as conflict, the script delivers terminal security chief Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) as the adversary who wishes Viktor would take one step outside of the building. There, he could be arrested on immigration charges. While Viktor is remains in the terminal, he's got the equivalent of a free pass.

We'll pause here to report that our press notes tell us that there is a guy in the Paris airport doing just what you see on screen here. We live in a still battered New York and this film is set in a New York airport so that may have something to do with why no one in our crowd was moved by the story. You need to believe in the core of any fantasy story and we (meaning your Crankiness and all the lucky folk at the sneak) didn't believe it.

We can't complain about Hanks' work. It is, as usual, impeccable. He is so submerged in his character that we forgot who we were looking at almost immediately. We can't fault Spielberg, who can do the basics of film storytelling with both hands tied behind his back, blindfolded and standing on his head. All the other stories, including the one belonging to Zeta-Jones, balance each other out. Perhaps we all expected to see more of Mrs. Douglas than the logic of the script allows. Heck, if we could put our finger on it, we'd be the one making the movie.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Terminal, he would have paid . . .


dateflick level. Our femme friends were gushing buckets. We wished we had worn a watch -- and that reaction is the first time in a very long run of watching films by Steven Spielberg that we were unmoved.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.