'Terminal' is interminable

Watching Spielberg's film is like being stuck in an airport.

And you think heightened safety measures make air travel too much of a bother? Consider the plight of Viktor Navorski in "The Terminal," the new Steven Spielberg movie.

Played by Tom Hanks, he's an Eastern European who lands in New York expecting a brief, productive visit - only to find that during his voyage a coup toppled his nation's government, abruptly making him a man without a country.

He can't officially enter the United States because his passport has become meaningless. And he can't go home because chaos reigns there.

So he turns a bank of chairs into a bed and hunkers down indefinitely in the Gate 68 waiting area.

Mr. Spielberg might have tackled this story in several ways: as a humanistic comedy drama, a satire of bureaucracy, a critique of overwrought security procedures, a psychological study, or a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Since most of those options would require more depth and insight than Spielberg can generally muster, he's chosen the simplest possible route, going mostly for laughs, with intermittent lapses into sentimentality and melodrama. At first it appears Mr. Hanks's acting might save the picture, but he's at a tricky stage of his career - no longer a bright-eyed youngster, not yet a revered screen icon - so he falls back on his trademarked amiability, which is wearing a bit thin.

The result is one of Spielberg's worst movies - basically a retread of Robert Zemeckis's more interesting "Cast Away," right down to Hanks as the hero and a fetish object (a peanut can instead of a soccer ball this time) for him to cherish.

Although it's hard to decide what's most irritating about "The Terminal," my vote goes to its utterly false view of contemporary airports - no long lines waiting to go through security, passengers yanking off their shoes, or metal detectors warning the world about ordinary belt buckles - and an utterly simplistic view of contemporary America.

As he showed in the recent "Catch Me if You Can," also a Hanks vehicle, Spielberg has little talent for emotional realism, not to mention psychological suspense. He should scurry back to "Jurassic Park" as soon as the next flight leaves.

Rated PG-13; contains vulgarity and drugs.

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