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There's a real guy by the name of Merhan Nasseri, who landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris in 1988. Originally from Iran, his passport and other documents were stolen so he couldn't be deported to any country. He's been living at the airport ever since. If the The Terminal had been Nasseri's story then it might have been an interesting film. However, The Terminal is only "inspired" Nasseri and is a complete work of fiction. The Terminal is the latest vehicle for heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if you Can) but this time they have produced the most lightweight movie imaginable. The Terminal tells the story of a man (Tom Hanks) from a generic eastern european country. He is coming to New York city on a mysterious pilgrimage that has something to do with a tin can that Hanks carries with him. I won't spoil it for you but it has to do with this picture. Anyway, while Hanks is in the air, there is a coup in his home country and by the time he gets to immigration, he is persona non grata. What happens after this makes little sense but Hanks is told daily by an immigration officer (Zoe Saldana) that he can't go home and he can't leave the airport and go into New York city. The evil being behind this torture is the head of operations at the airport (Stanley Tucci) who decides that Hanks' presence in the airport is somehow causing Tucci to lose face. He is constantly plotting to get Hanks arrested. But Hanks and various airport workers, who have befriended him (Chi McBride, Diego Luna and Kumar Pallana), foil Tucci at every turn. Thrown into the mix are two romantic subplots. Hanks meets and falls in love with a beautiful but crazy flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones) while Luna, an airport food worker, falls for immigration officer Saldana.
There's not much to The Terminal. In fact, my plot summary makes it sound like there's more to it than there really is. This piece of fluff is carried almost completely by the immense talent of Tom Hanks. He is at his best when he is playing a likeable average Joe and The Terminal is right up his alley. And, it is because Hanks is able to make his character interesting and likeable that this movie is a fairly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Stanley Tucci (The Imposters, Big Night) is a great actor but he is sorely wasted here. So is Zeta-Jones, whose psycho character is meant to be amusing but is actually quite scary. The supporting cast of Chi McBride (Boston Public), Diego Luna (Y tu mamá también) and Kumar Pallana (The Royal Tenenbaums) are all good but are not as funny as they would have been with a decent script.
The Terminal takes product placement to a whole new level. The setting is meant to be New York's JFK airport but little of the movie was shot on location. A huge terminal was constructed in which many familiar storefronts and products are on display in every scene of the movie. But, what was Spielberg thinking? This film could be compared to the last Spielberg/Hanks opus, Catch Me if you Can but not favorably. Catch Me if You Can, also based on a real person, was very entertaining, had some real characters and a nice style. The Terminal has none of these things except that Hanks, as usual, rises above the material to make his character reach at least two dimensions. No one else gets past one. The film meanders around for most of its 128 minutes and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Finally, you do find out why Tom Hanks has been carrying around that tin can but the ending is a bit of a letdown mainly because the Zeta-Jones subplot is so troubling. If you really like Tom Hanks, as I do, you should go see The Terminal. Otherwise, rent Catch Me if you Can.