Review: “The Terminal”

No filmmaker is perfect. Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, etc. all have their bombs. Indeed, many of the great directors from the 80’s and early 90’s just don’t seem to have that magic touch anymore, and it’s a scarlet letter that’s becoming quite visible on Steven Spielberg.

“Minority Report” and “Catch Me If You Can” were well made and quite enjoyable movies but hardly classics of their genre, whilst “AI,” “Amistad” and “The Lost World” are passable films at best, bore-fests at worst. Now comes “The Terminal,” film which is right up there with “1941” and “Always” as his worst work yet.

What’s shocking here is the inanity of it all. This isn’t a film you can bash for being stupid or insulting, it’s too sickly sweet and pointless for that. The first 15 minutes (seen in most of the trailers) sets up an interesting comedic premise about this guy who is forced to live in an international airport terminal.

The trouble is that’s it – between the start and the rushed almost anti-climactic ending there’s well over an hour and a half of essentially padding. In here you have two separate movies – a fish out of water sitcom and a sweet old-fashioned but ultimately fruitless romance.

That’d be fine if the script worked, but it doesn’t. The gags are all tired and rely on trite characters from the assorted shop employees who help and cheer on the guy to the ‘evil’ administrator who wants him arrested. Hanks does ok, even with a horrid accent, but deserves far better material than this.

Zeta-Jones is a believable character but the two have zero chemistry. The terminal set is impressive, but don’t get me started on the amount of product placement here for the likes of Starbucks, Burger King, Hugo Boss, Borders, etc. After a while, like any airport terminal, all the wide walkways and endless lounges start feeling all too stifling, but we’re stuck in here for the duration.

In many ways though, this is what one expects from a Spielberg movie not dealing with such serious subject matter. He lays on the sugar & sentimentality very thick, never treading into unsafe waters but even for him this surprisingly drags out some really old standby gags like Hanks accent mispronunciations and a grumpy immigrant janitor.

Subplots come and go with little interest whether it be the Latin cleaning guy with a crush or Hanks’ mural building, whilst others seem oddly placed and don’t fit (eg. the nutter desperate to ship medicine). The pacing is so languid it turns two hours into feeling like four or five. Even the hardcore fans out there are going to find this all too trite. Next time, take a boat.