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Crash Landing 

Humanist drama soars, then plummets

Hard to believe, but it's possible to have too much plot -- and The Terminal proves it. Steven Spielberg's latest picture is loosely based on the true story of a man who, because of twisting ribbons of red tape, had to live for an unimaginable length of time in an airport after being denied access back to his homeland as well as entry into the country he was visiting. Here, Tom Hanks plays the accidental tourist Viktor Navorski, and as we watch him settle into his new "home" by establishing daily routines around JFK and making friends with airport employees, we're delighted by the rich vein of humor and moved by Hanks' compassionate performance.

But sensing (wrongly, I'm sure) that audiences might get bored with this lack of dramatic conflict, Spielberg and his three writers shamelessly gum up the works by adding extraneous characters and schmaltzy situations. Stanley Tucci plays the paper villain of the piece, a rabid airport official who inexplicably tracks and torments Viktor as if he were Inspector Javert on the hunt for Jean Valjean; meanwhile, Catherine Zeta-Jones gets unconvincingly shoehorned into the storyline as Viktor's potential love interest, a nitwit flight attendant with man problems. Everything eventually leads to a finale that's curiously stagnant and unmoving.

What a pity. The Terminal certainly takes off in spectacular fashion, but too much narrative turbulence prevents its flights of fancy from ever achieving maximum altitude.

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