I often don't go to opening weekends of big wide-release movies. I like a crowded movie theater, but I hate having to get there extra-early, possibly getting crap seats, etc. But this weekend, I actually happened to go to all three new major release movies, and I'm very happy to say that the finish line for the weekend box office was ordered in a way commiserate with the qualities of the individual films.
The aptly named Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story trounced the Spielberg-Hanks, i.e., should-be-guaranteed-blockbuster, release The Terminal. Early estimates found the Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn comedy attracting $30-Million to "only" $18.7-Million for The Terminal. For plenty of movies, an $18.7-Million opening weekend is great. For Spielberg & Hanks ... not so much.
But you know what? Dodgeball may not win any awards, but it's funny as hell. The Terminal on the other hand is possibly the worst movie Spielberg has ever directed. The only thing that keeps The Terminal< from being the biggest disaster this weekend is that Disney released it's $100-Million Walden Media produced "remake" (barely) of Around the World in 80 Days starring Jackie Chan. Not only does it's #9 placing and $6.8-Million weekend gross signal major flop, but it's an absolutely atrocious movie. But I'll deal with that in another post.
I mean, I expected Around the World in 80 Days to be bad (albeit not as bad as it is), and I expected the Terminal to at least be interesting, if not good. But as the movie went on ... and on ... and on ... and on ... from one completely implausible or illogical plot-point to the next, I became more and more astonished that anyone involved, especially Spielberg, agreed to even participate in this production. The script is absolutely terrible, filled with little cute or funny moments that when strung together still make absolutely no sense.
I know plenty of people will enjoy this movie because it has these sweet moments and is filled with actors most of us love. And Spielberg is obviously a good enough director to manipulate the hell out of an audience with almost any material. But this film suffers from something other than Deus ex Machina because for the majority of its nearly 130 minutes not much actually happens. And it's the inconsistencies in each character that drove me batty.
The entire premise of the movie makes little sense, especially in this post-9/11, constant Orange alert at JFK world. The thought that the airport security wouldn't hold this one passenger until they actually could get the proper translator there and would instead let him roam free in the international terminal, eventually finding his way to a closed area in the terminal where he can take apart seats to build a bed with nobody noticing, even though we're shown the large banks of monitor screens linked to cameras throughout the airport ... well, yeah ... it's somewhat laughable.
But let's suspend our disbelief for just a moment: nothing else makes sense either. The joke at the beginning is that Hanks' character speaks no English and pretty-much just says "Yes." Yet Stanley Tucci's character, who heads security at customs at JFK, keeps talking to him. Hanks still doesn't seem to understand, but oh wait a second, he does. He doesn't grasp that his country is at war because he's surprised when he sees the pictures on the TV screens later, but he does understand that he can't leave the airport and the coupons marked meal vouchers are for food. The amount of English he does or doesn't get is completely inconsistent until, one of the good script moments, he finds two NYC tourist guides -- one in English, one in Russian (I believe) -- and starts learning English by comparing the similar passages. But that brings me back to gripe number 1: his language is either Russian or at least it's something common enough for there to exist a tourist guide in the airport. They really couldn't get a translator there from NEW YORK CITY within a couple hours?
Nitpicky? Maybe. But it's the accumulation of these kinds of story elements that destroy this movie. The love story, as it is, between Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones is utterly ridiculous because there's not one moment where we can see why Hanks believes in her so much. Yeah, first he thinks she's gorgeous (a given), but then he discovers that she's been "the other woman" to some guy for seven years and she basically tells him to stay away. They talk a bit about Napoleon, and that's what convinces him that she's the love of his life? Hanks' character is supposed to be this wonderful, nice, intelligent, sweet man put in a very unfortunate position who has come all the way to New York to fulfill a promise (that I won't reveal in case you actually choose to go see this tripe), who at one point risks his own freedom for a stranger, who won't tell a white lie that will allow him to legally leave the airport, who is consumed with honor and integrity -- but all that's important is that Zeta-Jones is hot? Nice message.
And I'm not even going to get started on Tucci's character, the stereotypical driven career-man who won't let anything stand in his way of success. The problem is, the Hanks character never really is any threat to Tucci's character in any way, and the ultimate vendetta that seems to grow throughout the "story" can only be explained by saying simply that Tucci's character is mean. There's no other rational reason, not even one that might be realistic solely within the confines of the world of the movie. Never is this more evident than at what is meant to be the emotionally rousing climax, which is of course utterly predictable. If you actually believe there is any reason for Tucci to act the way he does, well you'll probably like this movie ... and you have major problems. And the other two or three subplots? Oy!
I'm just shocked that with the talent involved, The Terminal we get is this one. This could have been a much more interesting and even believable movie. And before you say, "Aaron, I go to the movies to escape and be entertained; screw the real world," the fact that The Terminal isn't "realistic" is the least of its problems. Take Dodgeball, which is incredibly absurd and absolutely hilarious. Yeah, it's low-brow humor, and plenty of the funny comes at the expense of someone getting smacked in the head or the nuts, but even if you don't laugh at those moments (and it's hard not to) there's plenty of clever writing and fantastic comedic acting moments.
Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn do what they always do, but this movie works not just because of the two of them but also due to the phenomenal supporting cast including the hilariously crude Rip Torn always fantastic Stephen Root channeling a slightly less-dorky version of his Milton character from Office Space and Justin Long who also basically plays an extended version of the character Warren which he played for four years on the underrated TV series Ed, not to mention some great cameos which I'll leave as a surprise. Special mention, though, has to go to Jason Bateman who is cry-and-can't-breathe funny as the color commentator for the big Dodgeball tournament. Talk about a career-resurgence: his role here isn't that huge but I laughed every time he was on screen, and his Fox series, the thank-god-it-was-renewed Arrested Development is simply the funniest show on TV, with Curb Your Enthusiasm as its only potential rival.
So the moral of this story? Go see Dodgeball. If you must see everything Spielberg and Hanks, wait for the video of The Terminal. The Janusz Kaminski cinematography is excellent as always, but this isn't a big visual movie like other Spielberg films so it will survive on your smaller home screen. And Around the World in 80 Days? Just forget about it.