THE TERMINAL, STEPFORD WIVES, DODGE BALL

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


They are hated or loved depending on your circumstance.  Airports can be the beginning of an adventure, a happy start, a sad end, an ordinary trip from A to B.  They can become overnight stays for stranded passengers.  But rarely do they become home in the way the airport in "The Terminal" does for Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks). 

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, a combination especially able to bring a quality of wistfulness to almost anything, do just that here.  In a situation otherwise claustrophobic and frustrating, they have made the story of Viktor a tale of sweet resourcefulness.

As Viktor approaches customs after landing, his eye catches a breaking story on a TV monitor.  Krakozia, his Eastern European homeland has been swallowed up by a military coup that sentences Viktor to indefinite life in the airport.  He is homeless and stateless.  Manhattan waits outside the terminal door, but Viktor is forbidden to pass through the gate.  He can't get a visa without a passport and he can't get a passport without a country.

Nearly unintelligible at the beginning of his stay, Viktor learns English as he makes a nest in an unused corner of the terminal.  He finds friends among the airport workers and a possible romance with Catherine Zeta-Jones.  He also runs headlong into the humorless, by-the-book bureaucrat, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) who intones, "You are currently a citizen of nowhere."  Tom Hanks invests every scene with his own original take on this principled visitor to the most barren of American landscapes.  Neither the script nor the cast live up to Hanks, so this becomes simply a good movie, not a great one.

Lingering in the summer mediocrity of the multiplex are two films you might want to skip unless your air conditioning is broken.   "Stepford Wives" unfolds in that meaty time when post war America's attention turned to inventions for home and hearth for the war weary.  Metaphorically - and actually, Stepford was, and is, "Connecticut's family paradise."  The uniform of the Stepford moment:  big hats, pearls, small prints, cinched waists.  Instead of a clever satire of a world of romance and chiffon, we are treated to "perfected women," actual robots whose cranial nano chips are prone to breakage.  The conforming wives of the '50s are marvelous targets for wit.  As real time robots, they are just plain dull.  Glenn Close and Christopher Walken are frightening to behold in this movie that was made before anyone figured out what to do with it.  

In the tremendous variety of sub-culture movies from terrific to terrible, "Dodge Ball" is probably the worst.  Ben Stiller's character is so ugly it will be hard to think of him as anybody else.  Rarely have producers assembled as unappetizing a group of lowlifes in one story.  Someone on screen talks about being a "skidmark on the underpants of society."  More likely, this whole thing is a stain on the career of a fine actor. 

Tom Hanks in "The Terminal" wins on all counts.

 


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