BY MATT JUSTUS
Directed by Steven SpielbergStarring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones
Since 2001, moviegoers have been questioning the sanity of Steven Spielberg. AI: Artificial Intelligence was incomprehensible, though at the time we chalked it up to Spielberg having a tough time jelling with Stanley Kubrick’s material. Minority Report was better, but not very creative and marred by inappropriate “comedy.” Catch Me If You Can has been the best of the millennium, which doesn’t say much for it. So you’re probably wondering why I’m not reviewing War of the Worlds, if all I want to do is take out some aggression on Spielberg. Well, I didn’t see it. But I did have the misfortune to recently see The Terminal. Consequently, it’s the first entrant into our Hall of Shame.
When you rent a movie like this one, you expect it to be saccharine, inspirational crap like most of the movies Tom Hanks is in. You’re prepared to laugh a little, cry a little, in short, allow your emotions to be manipulated by situations that are implausible, but cute. This film starts out exactly like that. The premise of the film, in case you don’t know, is that this Central Asian guy shows up at JFK airport in New York, but, because the government of his tiny country was overthrown while he was in the air, he can’t return and can’t step onto American soil…so he’s confined to the airport. Okay, that’s clever. And Hanks is fairly endearing as this hapless traveler, at least at first, which helps us overlook the fact that he probably wouldn’t have been the only person on that plane and the (more glaring) fact that Russian and English have completely different alphabets, which would make teaching English to yourself by translating magazine articles about “Friends” pretty tough.
However, this sweetness continues for more than two hours. For what is essentially a romantic comedy, that’s way too long. Hanks’ character, Viktor Navorski, develops personal relationships with numerous people who work at and/or frequent the airport. As a result, our disbelief is suspended at increasing strain as the film drags on. A few examples of the ridiculousness of this film: Viktor plays go-between for some guy in the airport, wooing another employee for him. Apparently, she’s receptive to this guy’s affections…to the point where she accepts a proposal that Viktor makes by proxy. Yes, this woman agrees to marry someone based on several questions the dude had a homeless guy ask her, sight unseen. Later, Viktor himself is doing the wooing, of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ utterly superfluous character, Amelia the flight attendant. As a part of his courtship, he uses his position as a construction worker at the airport (a job he gets by helpfully building a wall in the airport, like a pixie in the night) to construct a giant fountain in the middle of another wall. His supervisor, when asked what Viktor is doing, says “I’m his supervisor. I’m supposed to tell him what to do. If I asked him what he was doing, I’d look pretty stupid.” Um, no, sir, if one of your employees just starts building something that was not in any way solicited by your client, I think you have every right to ask him what he’s doing. I don’t even want to get into the “villain” of the film, a bureaucrat who, for no reason whatsoever, blames Viktor for the situation he’s in, but refuses to do more than annoy and hassle him. Based on this guy’s Ahab-esque hatred for Viktor over the course of the film, his actions at the film’s end are insane.
Another enormous problem with this movie is the fact that there is absolutely zero character development. None whatsoever. Viktor begins the movie as essentially a perfect character, and he ends the movie as a perfect character. He helps some other people change a bit (which I’ll touch on again later), but Viktor at the opening of the film is the exact same person as Viktor at the closing of the film. Similarly, Amelia begins by telling him to stay away from her since she’s bad news, and winds up ditching him for exactly the reason given at their first meeting.
By the final twenty minutes or so, I was literally shouting at the screen, alternately mocking the film and begging it to end. I’m about to spoil part of the ending, so if you care, stop reading. The governmental struggles end, and Viktor is allowed to go home. But he still never got to go to New York to get what he came for. So this Indian janitor in his seventies (at least) decides to sit in front of Viktor’s plane to delay it, knowing full well that by doing this he will be deported to India, where he will spend the rest of his life in Indian prison, so that Viktor can make his escape to get a saxophone player’s autograph. Even worse (!) is that while Viktor is on his way out, the camera randomly closes up on some airport employee, who says, completely deadpan: “Viktor’s leaving,” as if this is the most important thing that has ever happened in the history of JFK. At this point, everyone in the place freaks out and starts giving Viktor going away presents: food, a digital camera, a firstborn son, etc. I half expected the slow-clap-building-up-to-thunderous-applause, but was denied.
A film tedious and ridiculous to the point of near-comedy all at once. Avoid at all costs.
Matt Justus is a 2L. He only saw this movie because he thought it was about a cancer patient.