Spielberg scores first class

“The Terminal”Dreamworks PicturesDirected by Steven SpielbergStarring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley TucciRated ‘PG-13’4 out of 5 stars

With “The Terminal,” Steven Spielberg books Tom Hanks a seat on another isolated character drama-apparently, it’s something Hanks does well. Is the ride smooth? Hanks takes this one off Spielberg’s autopilot to fly a mostly turbulence-free flight to the end. Viktor Navorski is among the most charming and memorable of Hanks’ roles, as a Eastern European tourist stranded in JFK’s International Terminal.

With Navorski being unable to go home or outside to America due to a political uprising back home in Krakozia (for all of you Geog 1010 failures, that’s a fictional place), he is left unarmed against culture shock and confusion with useless foreign currency and struggling English. Viktor is forced to wait for his bureaucratic plight to blow over as he begins to make the terminal his home, and to make the people who populate and work there his neighbors and friends.

Most of the supporting cast works exceptionally well within Spielberg’s world, allowing more room for unique character development instead of overdrawn concept development-a smart move for Spielberg, who’s normally more into his ideas than the people playing them out.

Stanley Tucci as the quintessential overzealous federale of a TSA-like agency plays the sniveling Frank Dixon with enough unique motivation and depth to stay out of being the singular, one-dimensional antagonist. Other strong charismatic sucker punches include Kumar Pallana (Pagoda of “The Royal Tenenbaums” fame) as a janitor paranoid of Navorski’s potential CIA ties; Diego Luna (brown studmuffin No. 2 from “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) as a lovestruck flight meals worker; and Chi McBride as Dixon’s reluctant security agent all ooze enough charm and dimension to keep the film’s allure shiny long after they leave the screen.

A few delays in “The Terminal” keep it from landing in five-star territory, though-one of them being Navorski’s love interest: a flaky, emotionally inept flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose character exhausts screen time and whose portrayal will rust on audience patience.

Spielberg’s flight might have landed a little early, too-a shocker for traveling and Spielberg films alike-but neither Zeta-Jones’ bad acting nor “The Terminal’s” abrupt ending are enough to ground this one. By way of intriguing, intelligent plot devices, an entourage of (mostly) colorful characters, elaborate sets, sharp cinematography and Hanks’ enthralling performance, viewers, much like Navorski, will find themselves grounded in “The Terminal.” By the time it’s over, you won’t want to leave either.

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