Terminal Effort

Stop the presses: The usually amazing Steven Spielberg has directed a clunker

It's very rare that I find myself writing a negative review about a film Steven Spielberg directed. In fact, the last time I did that, I was putting together a mini review for a moronic adult contemporary radio station in upstate New York; the review was for 1991's Hook, which still stands as his worst movie. After a 13-year streak of cinematic goodness, Spielberg has made a drastically bad film with The Terminal, a movie that had me sitting, mouth agape and eyes wide open, wondering how one of the all-time great directors could make such a piece of garbage.

The only time Spielberg truly sucks is when he unleashes his Cutesy Monster, and the little bastard rears its ugly head in mighty brash fashion with this one. Tom Hanks stars as Eastern European tourist Viktor Navorski, delayed at a New York City airport when a war breaks out in his homeland of Krakozhia (a fictional country created for the film). Armed with the cutest darned Russian/Whatever accent and carrying a Planters Peanuts can, Viktor must take up residence in the airport terminal due to a bunch of immigration-law snafus.

Those snafus result in a nine-month stay, during which Viktor must learn English by watching TV news, wash his ass and genitals in public-bathroom sinks and perform unauthorized construction projects in the middle of an airport that would realistically shut him down the instant he picked up a trowel.

While stranded, Viktor becomes fierce enemies with the airport's chief security officer, Frank Dixon (a sniveling Stanley Tucci), who inexplicably sets out to make Viktor's life a living hell. Sure, the screenplay tries to give reasons for the animosity (ego, inconvenience, envy after Viktor gets a $19-an-hour airport-construction job), but the scenario is just too hard to buy. When Viktor is reduced to a diet of saltines and condiments, and Dixon does nothing to assist him, the character becomes nothing more than the moustache-twirling, sinister laughing villain of yesteryear. He's a hopelessly dated caricature.

While Tucci could certainly be called bad in this film, Catherine Zeta-Jones is apocalyptically horrendous as Amelia, a hapless stewardess who falls for Viktor in between cellular pages. This a truly awful performance, right alongside Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls and Nicolas Cage in Snake Eyes. It would be a copout to simply write off this performance as a case of miscasting. It's very possible that this film has shone a big. fat spotlight on the fact that she can't really act, even with one of those golden boys on her living room mantle. She's one of those actresses who looks like she's laughing when she's supposed to be crying.

Hanks labors away with his fictional accent, passing from one ludicrous scene to another with his usual sense of professionalism. He's a great actor, and earlier this year, he delivered one of his best performances in The Ladykillers. His talent and appeal can't save this one.

Why did Spielberg want to make what essentially amounts to a bad Nora Ephron movie? One could put forth the argument that he wanted to take it easy with something simple after great works like Catch Me if You Can, Minority Report and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. That argument could be debunked by the fact that this is no little movie. Because of current airport security restrictions, an entire airport terminal set needed to be constructed for this 130-minute slog through Hades.

The music is provided by John Williams at his syrupy worst, making much of the film intolerable. Spielberg and Hanks have been making some wonderful movies together, but The Terminal is certainly a sign that the famed buddies should take a little movie break.

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