Movie review: A Hologram for the King
Tom Hanks’s latest feels like a collection of the beloved actor’s greatest hits all rolled into one big lump of fish-out-of-water comedy that flops around on deck for the duration
A Hologram for the King
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Running time: 1hr 37 mins
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
It’s Tom Hanks’s greatest hits rolled into one: A little Splash, Apollo 13 and Castaway wandering through a forest of Gump-like befuddlement as Hanks takes on the role of Alan, a nice guy from America trying to make a sale in Saudi Arabia.
An older guy working for a high-tech firm, Alan already feels like the proverbial fish out of water before he even steps foot on the sandy soil of the Kingdom, but once he lands in the desert, he’s gasping and grasping at castles in the air.
It’s an easy metaphor with formulaic similarities to something sweet, like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen or Local Hero, only this Tom Tykwer movie misses the sweet spot and hits something tinny.
You can hear a high-pitched rattle in the opening scenes as Hanks receives his mission to sell a holographic conferencing system to the king. His character is in the midst of a messy divorce and he’s feeling the pangs of guilt from his previous job at Schwinn, where he laid off the entire workforce to manufacture offshore in a bid to make more money for the corporation.
Alan is in a wasteland, but he’s in denial until it surfaces — literally, on his back, in the form of a sebaceous cyst.
Before long, scenes from How to Get Ahead in Advertising start mingling with the tooth removal scene from Castaway. It’s shockingly icky, but we’ve seen these things before, making A Hologram for the King feel something stuck in the VHS machine of time.
What we haven’t seen before is Hanks courting a woman wearing the hijab, and if there’s any room for breaking new ground, cross-cultural romance involving Muslim custom is a wide-open frontier.
Sarita Choudhury plays the Saudi doctor who probes Alan’s lump, and you can tell Tykwer is trying to create a sense of tension and chemistry with these encounters, but how much heat do you really want to feel when puss is involved?
The romance doesn’t come to a head easily, partly because we’re grossed out by the initial lumpy encounter, and partly because there’s very little natural chemistry between squeaky Hanks and smoky Choudhury.
Hanks has never been a particularly convincing romantic lead. He can make us believe in love when he’s dating a mermaid, the Mona Lisa or a volleyball, but give Hanks a love scene, and it feels like watching mom and dad make out on the couch.
Of course it’s not his fault it feels awkward and weird. He’s not responsible for the chemical sterilization of his on-screen persona. It’s just what happens when you play the non-threatening male your entire career: People see you as their favorite uncle, the kind brother, the loyal husband, but not their secret lover.
On the upside, Hanks has to work extra hard in this particular role, and you can see his thespian muscles flex with every new twist. Eventually all that effort earns our respect, as well as a winning performance, but there’s no magic in a A Hologram for the King. It’s a piece of theatrical fakery trying to project substance, and despite all its good intentions, it still feels hollow.
THE EX-PRESS, April 23, 2016