Hollywood hues
Where sense terminates

Tom Hanks in The Terminal
Tom Hanks in The Terminal

When Arthur Hailey’s novels Hotel and Airport were made into films in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Airport had its sequels) it was purely to tell a story with these industries as the backdrop. But Steven Spielberg’s purpose in making The Terminal is not quite clear. Is it to scoff at the immigrants to the United States (after 9/11)? Or to try and romanticise the goings-on at the JFK Airport and the kind of camaraderie that exists among its immigrant workers? Or to restore the image of Big Apple?

It is a film which begins disastrously, so badly that it can only get better with time. Take this East European Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), who lands in New York when his homeland erupts in a coup and he is, therefore, denied entry into the US. To start with he knows just a few words of English. How by the end of the film he is almost fluent in the language only Spielberg would know. Or is it poetic licence?

The airport official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) is an indecisive man who does not exercise discretion. So he’s stuck with Viktor, who makes the terminal his home, for days, weeks, even months. But his stay at the terminal gets him acquainted with other immigrant staff, like Hispanic Enrique Cruz (Diago Luna), Indian Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), among others, and soon they are able to forge a bond among them. There’s also a Black to impart a racial flavour to the narrative.

The screenplay is weak and a few good lines here and there are the only compensation. There are other lines, however, that typify cheap American humour. If comely flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is meant to provide romantic relief it is indeed a very poor attempt. Viktor and Amelia are poles apart and Cupid has no business to be lurking anywhere near. Even worse, Cupid succeeds in making a match for the Hispanic Enrique which defies credibility. Is Spielberg taking his audience for granted, or does he think they are dumb?

Then there are a few digs at the Third World, not all in good taste. Even our Indian Gupta is ridiculed. To sort of balance this, Dixon is made to cut a sorry figure. At the end of the day one does get a picture of why folks choose to visit the Big Apple but the process is long-winded and scarcely worth the wait.

If Tom Hanks was bad in Castaway, he’s even worse in this film and he bumbles his way about (don’t even think of comparing him with Peter Sellers) but consistency is thrown to the winds. Going from dumb to extra smart he just conforms to the plot and the narrative loses its zing well before the halfway mark. The romance in the second half, too, doesn’t help with Zeta-Jones, understandably not coming across as very convincing in the role. Stanley Tucci is rather impressive in a film which is quite forgettable.

Why should Steven Spielberg have chosen such a corny subject? Maybe he thought he could try his hand at comedy after his 1941 farce. But it is clearly a very poor attempt.

Quite avoidable.