Movie Review: 'The Terminal'

by Rich Brooks

20 June 2004

I went to see Steven Kikeberg's latest production, a curious comedy/drama about a traveler from Eastern Europe who is forced to live for nine months in NYC's JFK Airport International Terminal. Tom Hanks plays the hapless Viktor Navorski, a traveler from the fictitious nation of "Krakozhia" who is denied entry to the U.S. by customs officials. Apparently there was a revolution in his country while he was in transit to New York and his passport and visa are no longer valid. Viktor speaks very little English and has trouble understanding what the customs bureaucrats are trying to tell him. While much of the audience is tittering at all of this lack of communication, I am sitting there puzzling over the inherent implausibility of the whole situation. I mean, really, they don't have translators in the Customs Bureau at JFK?

The officious head of airport security, is well-played by Stanley Tucci, a bald, slightly sinister-looking character actor who often plays jews. This part could easily have been overacted, but Tucci is believable as a low-level ZOG functionary who is seeking a job promotion and merely trying to follow all the rules. What to do about Viktor Navorski becomes a huge problem for him. You see, Viktor cannot fly back home because there is now a war going on there an all flights have been canceled. He can't enter the U.S. because of the above-mentioned passport invalidity, so here he is consigned to live in the international lounge of the airport. Why can't he be placed in a federal detention center, as one would logically expect to happen in this situation? In what I took as a mild jibe at Bush's Department of Homeland Security, it seems all of the prisons are so full of detained aliens that there is no more room for Hanks.

So our Viktor is left in limbo to wander around the airport waiting room, constantly being watched on television monitors by airport security. He finally manages to make himself a home of sorts in a deserted section of the terminal that is undergoing remodeling. He gradually makes friends with the airport service employees, and the film becomes a multicultural love-fest as the vast majority of these employees are non-White. It becomes almost an "us vs. them" situation with Hanks and these low-level workers on one side and the White airport security management on the other. Well, not exactly, because there is a good sprinkling of nigger management types represented as well.

There is also Catherine Zeta-Jones to provide a romantic spark to the movie. It is a strange sort of romance, because it seems Zeta-Jones' flight attendant character is something of a nymphomaniac who is constantly chasing married men. She and Hanks get together intermittently while she is between flights, but nothing ever really happens between the two. I could not detect much chemistry in this relationship, and Zeta-Jones gets far less screen time than you would expect from her top-billing in this film.

Viktor curiously carries around a can of Planters peanuts with him. What is in this can, we are left to wonder. It's not peanuts, but it must be something very important to him. Why no one ever searched him to find out is never explained, but we eventually learn his secret and the real reason he is visiting New York. I won't give away the ending, but believe me it is extremely silly, as is the whole movie in my opinion.

As with most Spielberg movies, the acting and the production values are first-rate. Hanks does a good job with the accent and is, as usual, believable in his role. However, to me there is always something missing from Kikeberg films that I'm hard-pressed to put my finger on. In the case of this latest effort, I found the premise of the story simply too unbelievable to be taken seriously. Those of us who have had recent experience with real airport security are painfully aware of this. While this is a subject ripe for real satire, "The Terminal" handles it much too timidly and hesitatingly. In fact I don't think the film can make up its mind whether to be a political satire, a slapstick comedy, or a romance.

While there are some funny comic lines in the film, particularly those spoken by the surly Indian janitor "Gupta," I thought most of the jokes fell flat. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood to laugh at multicultural humor and feel heartwarmed by all of the interracial camaraderie, but to me the entire movie was "terminally" dull.



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