Steven Spielberg's is on a roll. Wait, scratch that, he was on a roll. In 1998, Spielberg released Saving Private Ryan, and then followed that acclaimed project with A.I., Minority Report, and Catch Me if You Can over the following four years. With The Terminal, Spielberg reminds everyone that he's not flawless. He's had a brilliant career, but blemishes exist -- Hook and Jurassic Park: The Lost World come to mind.

The Terminal stars Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a resident of a fictional Eastern European country. Navorski travels to America with only a Planters peanuts can, but is stuck in the international airport's terminal when his homeland is thrown into disarray after a military coups. With no way into America or back to his homeland, Navorski learns how to live in the terminal.

The plot lends itself to an examination of identity and immigration, but surprisingly, Spielberg opts to play the first two acts of the film as a fish-out-of-water comedy. While it's a pleasant, harmless experience, it damages the film's final act when Spielberg asks the audience to buy into Navorski's love for Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a stewardess who gets around -- on more than planes.

The audience never knows why Navorski is coming to America, and when Spielberg clues everyone in at the end, the result is less than satisfying. After spending a good deal of the film laughing at Navorski and his band of illegal immigrant airport employees, there's no reason to view Navorski as an individual. He's written as a stereotype for most of the film, an immigrant with an accent who does kooky things. Hanks could easily be replaced by Roberto Benigni.

The Terminal isn't an awful film. Hanks has the image of the American "everyman", but he adjusts well to his foreign role and produces some genuine laughs, along with co-star Kumar Pallana, who steals most of the scenes as a conspiracy theorist janitor. Still, pleasantries aside, I wonder what possessed Spielberg to step away from his more recent, riskier material and into this typical romantic comedy.

Here's hoping this is just one more small blemish on an otherwise great career.


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