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Movie Review: "The Terminal"

I love doing this!

At the last minute yesterday, the radio station with which my employer shares a building, passed out free passes to a preview screening of this movie, which doesn't open nationally till next Friday.

So take this, Roger Ebert! MY review gets read first!

This is a Steven Spielberg-directed film. Spielberg used to direct sci-fi epics, but in recent years has turned more to fun stuff like "Catch Me If You Can", and in this film, a comedy, Tom Hanks, who was in "CMIYC", plays Viktor Navorski, from Krakhozia, an Eastern European country that seems vaguely like one of the old Soviet republics.

He is arriving at JFK Airport (played, of course, by Mirabel Airport in Montreal, since most US films these days seem to be fleeing for Canada -- the clue is the destination "BRUXELLES" that is shown on the airport board at one point. That's the French spelling of "BRUSSELS", of course, but it wouldn't have been shown that way at JFK. Anyway.) for a visit to New York, but due to a revolution in Krakhozia, he is told by Stanley Tucci, playing with great gusto a man who is up for a big promotion in the Homeland Security detail at JFK, that all return flights have been cancelled but he cannot enter the US because the US has not recognized his government, and so he must stay in the airport.

This character, though NOT the specific story, is loosely based on the story of Merhan Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian who was expelled from Iran in 1988 and has been living at Degaulle Airport in Paris ever since, even though he was given permission to leave in 2001.

So, Spielberg and the writers have their setup, as Hanks, who begins the film speaking only a few words of English, walks forlornly into the terminal.

And you're thinking, OK, this makes a good half-hour sitcom.

Hanks makes it work, because he is one of the great actors of our time. He is absolutely believable as he gets in people's way (including several hilarious airport workers, who at first don't like him very much, but soon befriend him), and learns English from the TV monitors in the terminal.

Every day, he goes to the INS office to try to get his form stamped, and every day, the young female officer stamps "DENIED". Soon, the airport food worker who is secretly in love with this INS agent, enlists Hanks' help in wooing her -- I thought of what Steve Martin did for his friend in "Roxanne".

I haven't even touched on the sweet romance that blooms between the harried flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta-Jones (and though it was a good character, Zeta-Jones' American accent needs work), and there is one scene where an airport cleanup worker played by Indian actor Kumar Pallana, who according to his bio at the Internet Movie Database is 85 years old, makes us all laugh with something that seems like an amazingly silly thing to do, but simply brings Hanks and Zeta-Jones closer.

In the end, we finally learn what's brought Viktor Navorski to New York, something you almost forget in all the humor, and it's a touching story of a son's love for his father. Of this I will say no more.

This isn't heavy stuff at all, it's funny (and I mean truly funny in spots, not just the typical "movie laughs") and it's also sweet and poignant. Hanks is wonderful as always and Spielberg's direction is top-notch.

I've always wanted to say this:

"Opens Friday, June 18 at a theater near you!"

AYRating: *** 1/2