Dir: Steven Spielberg.US. 2004. 128mins

When Steven Spielberg sets out to make a feelgood heartwarmer, as he openlystates was his intention in The Terminal, cynics better watch out. Thefilm-maker whose command of the craft is so fluent that he can eke tears fromthe hardest of hearts goes all out for sentiment in his latest picturestarring, well who else, Tom Hanks. The results are not for the faint-hearted.Like the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal'ssugar-coated assault on the emotions is determined and ferocious.

But The Terminal isno ET. Crafted with the impeccable polish and calculating precision forwhich Spielberg and his DreamWorks studio have become renowned, the film isnevertheless a heavy-handed attempt at a wholesome Capra-esque fable whichcomes to life only sporadically courtesy of Hanks' energetic performance.Whereas Spielberg was so attuned to the children in ET, he seems out oftouch with the working ethnic folk he attempts to portray in The Terminal.Real immigrants like Capra or Ernst Lubitsch would have lifted the materialwith warmer understanding of the people themselves not to mention a moresparkling wit.

Nevertheless, after a summerof pyrotechnics courtesy of Riddick, Troy and Van Helsing,the Spielberg-Hanks combo which generated dizzying box office grosses with bothPrivate Ryan and Catch Me If You Can will probably have a similarimpact at the box office domestically once it opens next Friday. Adultaudiences will happily surrender into the safe, familiar hands of these boxoffice behemoths and their sentimental heartstring-tugger.

A domestic hit of CatchMe and Cast Away proportions can be expected; internationalaudiences, who will see the picture after a premiere at the Venice FilmFestival in late August, will likewise be drawn by the brand names above thetitle even if ultimately they might not embrace the Yankee saccharine with thesame enthusiasm.

As the trailer makes veryclear, The Terminal's story is simple: Viktor Navorski (Hanks) arrivesin New York City's JFK airport from his (imaginary) eastern European homecountry of Krakozhia but when he gets to passport control, he finds out that amilitary coup has occurred in Krakozhia during his trip and the US does notrecognize the new government. Unable to enter the country, Navorski findshimself stranded in the terminal's international transit lounge until the warat home is over.

Navorski proceeds to spendmonths living in the terminal, sleeping in a gate which is under construction,earning money first by returning luggage carts, then by working for theconstruction firm at work on the terminal. He makes friends in other airportworkers such as baggage handler Joe (McBride), food service worker Enrique(Luna) and cleaner Gupta (Pallana). He even falls for a United Airlines flightattendant called Amelia (Zeta-Jones), although at every turn is his nemesisairport official Frank Dixon (Tucci) who is determined to get him out of theterminal.

About two-thirds of the wayinto the film, we discover the reason for Viktor's visit to the US - a syrupyplot twist which firmly steers the film away from making any but the softestpolitical statement.

With its multiplenationalities and apparent opportunities for affluence (Viktor gets paid $19 anhour in his construction job), Spielberg's terminal represents the melting potof the US itself, although whether the film arrives at an appropriate moment,when the self-perpetuated image of the US as an equitable home for all has beenseverely tarnished, is another matter. Foreigners will shudder at the memoriesof entering the US through customs and smirk at Spielberg's rosy-tinted versionof the process.

The terminal itself,constructed for the film in a hangar in California, is also smarter thananything at JFK, although retail outlets such as Starbucks, Burger King,Borders Books, Dean & Deluca and Hugo Boss figure prominently - a realistictouch and one which brings product placement to new levels of integration intothe fabric of a movie.

Hanks, who speaks in brokenEnglish throughout the film, is terrific as Viktor and demonstrates thoseeveryman qualities which draw such frequent comparisons with the great stars ofthe golden age like James Stewart and Gary Cooper. Zeta-Jones is a brightpresence in a largely thankless supporting role as the love interest, whileTucci, McBride, Luna, Henly and Pallana all shine as the kookie airport staff.

Prod cos: DreamWorks Pictures
US dist: DreamWorks
Int'l dist: DreamWorks /UIP
Exec prods:
Patricia Whitcher, Jason Hoffs & Andrew Niccol
Walter F Parkes, Laurie MacDonald & Steven Spielberg
Sacha Gervasi & Jeff Nathanson, from a story by Niccol &Gervasi
Janusz Kaminski
Prod des:
Alex McDowell
Michael Kahn
John Williams
Main cast:
Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride,Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka Henley, Kumar Pallana, Zoe Saldana