I hate myself for telling you to rent The Terminal despite all the times I rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust as I watched. But I also counted the times I laughed as well as loathed, and in comparison, I guffawed just a bit too much to say that it was irredeemable.
Viktor (Tom Hanks) a tourist from a little known Eastern European country, lands in New York to find out his country has been thrown into civil war and his papers are no longer valid and he cannot enter the US. As his country is no longer recognized, he cannot return there either, so he is doomed to roam the halls of JFK's international terminal. Viktor, whose English is very poor, unluckily finds an adversary in the newly appointed Field Commisioner, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Dixon continually tries to get Viktor off his hands by attempting to trick him into criminally entering the country, or claiming asylum. But Viktor also finds numerous champions. He plays midnight poker with a multi-cultural staff played by Diego Luna, Chi McBride and Kumar Pallana, and befriends the INS agent (ZoŽ Saldana) who perpetually stamps his papers "no entry." He then sets her up with perpetually cute Diego for an airport wedding. Despite Viktor's lack of full English sentences he also scores a couple dates with hottie flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
I'm not sure what was more frustrating in The Terminal, those things that could really never happen or those things that you hope can't happen. But I felt bogged down in both. Though Viktor remains in the terminal for many months no interpreter seems to be attainable. He's initially given a couple food vouchers (which he loses anyway) but never given any other way to obtain food in the weeks after. (His country's money is no longer viable). When he begins returning carts for the quarter deposits Dixon hires someone to take the carts from him, essentially trying to starve him out. While I believe this could happen, I would think eventually Viktor's mistreatment might attract a small amount of media attention, or at least a few ACLU lawyers. Instead Viktor saves everyone from slipping on the perpetually wet floor, gets a job as a contractor, and builds a fountain. At one point, Amelia asks him if he escaped from a mental institution and I quite understand her train of thought. While some might find it quaint, I found nauseatingly sweet, like a poster of a kitten swinging from a branch that says, "Hang in there." (Oh yeah, and did I mention he learns English in a couple days from translating guidebooks?)
Hanks's acting, as usual, is just right as the wise but misunderstood outsider (but in a gown-up way) he plays so well. But Spielberg makes his first trying-for-an-Oscar-level emotional scene way to early in the film. Viktor's breakdown comes before we know anything about him and it just feels like crying for the judges. Zeta-Jones was mildly interesting social commentary as the self-destructive, approaching 40, flight-attendant who just can't stop sleeping with married men whom she tells she's 27. But we never really get to delve into any of Amelia's life so she becomes just a beautiful, sad backdrop. The same is true of most of The Terminal's moral message, which has immense potential. I especially loved when Viktor saved a Russian man's prescription by claiming it was for his goat. But while the cast was diverse, and the issues profound, neither were ever really dealt with in a serious or thoughtful manner.
The Terminal's all-stars are as brilliant as we have come to expect, but the film largely felt like just another excuse for Spielberg to unnecessarily toot his own horn with another so-called masterpiece of socio-political impact and heartfelt emotion. Instead what emerges is a disturbingly pleasant and easy to watch abuse of American power, and an uneasy tale that, like the interminably grounded Viktor, goes absolutely nowhere.