(Originally published 2004)
Steven Spielberg's “The Terminal” is terminal, all right. It’s terminally long and terminally dull--a one-way ticket to Bore-a Bore-a that’s such a vacant slog, audiences should be rewarded with free travel miles just for sitting through it.
Based on a screenplay by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, the movie is slight, sentimental slop. It tries to mimic the brilliance of Frank Capra, but fails in doing so. It’s the worst film Spielberg has made since 1991’s “Hook,” the weakest his star, Tom Hanks, has released since 1990’s “Joe Versus the Volcano.” It’s such a misstep, you have to wonder what compelled these two talented artists to make it, particularly since their choices are usually so sharp.
Whatever the reason, here’s their movie, taking up space in theaters like a candy-coated stink bomb. Too bad. After the enormous critical and financial success of their previous collaborations (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Catch Me if You Can”), interest in “The Terminal” was relatively high, helping to push the movie to a $19 million opening.
Expect that number to plummet as word-of-mouth sinks the film.
In it, Hanks is Viktor Navorski, a post-Soviet-bloc stereotype who comes to the United States on a personal mission for his dead father only to learn upon arriving in the States that he’s “simply unacceptable” and won’t be allowed entrance to our country.
What’s the problem? Apparently, Viktor’s own country of Krakozhia launched into war while Viktor was en route to the U.S. Now tangled in red tape, Viktor is told by the head of airport security, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), that he’s not leaving the terminal until this mess is sorted out. In this case, that means an end to the war in Krakozhia, which promises to be nearly a year away, with Viktor imprisoned in the terminal as a result.
Much of the film’s premise is inspired by one of Hanks’ better films, “Cast Away,” with Viktor using his resources to survive in an inhospitable land. For money, he first collects airport carts for quarters before finding work doing construction inside the terminal. For food, he either relies the bounty resting within trash cans or he eats saltines with mustard and ketchup. For romance, however, he hits it big, finding love in a pretty flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta-Jones who just happens to have one screwed-up love life.
With the exception of the film’s tidy and unbelievable romance, there is precedent for the film’s premise—for the past 16 years, an Iranian expatriate has lived in a terminal of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Still, precedent isn’t the problem here. What sandbags the movie is the complete lack of chemistry between Hanks and Jones, the film’s overlong running time, Spielberg’s insulting dumbing down of working class American immigrants (his blue collar workers are dim-witted clowns), and the film’s overtly sentimental ending, which is so ripe and turbulent, you might be crying out for an oxygen mask when it hits.