September 26, 2016 | Rome, Italy | Clear skies 16°C
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Action

MI-5 (Spooks: The Greater Good)

An outgrowth of British TV, Bharat Nalluri's espionage thriller is direct and workmanlike.

Drama

Carol

Todd Haynes has become an expert in bringing the style and values of the American 1950s to life.

99 Homes

Ramin Bahrani's movie about eviction woes is a small masterpiece of greed and tension.

Spotlight

Tom McCarthy's superb "Spotlight" is just as much about journalistic doggedness as sexual abuse.

Horror

Southbound

Four directors do a good job of situating purgatory on a California highway, until they run out of gas.

Thrillers

The Invitation

Karyn Kusama's horror-thriller has its moments, but fails to make the most of lingering menace.

High-Rise

Ben Wheatley's adaptation of a 1975 J.G. Ballard parable is beautiful to look at but dated in spirit.

Regression

Alejandro Amenábar's mediocre devil-worship thriller is really an object lesson in manipulated hysteria.

The Ones Below

David Farr's creepy thriller about babies and unstable mothers is at once unsettling but predictable.

Science Fiction

10 Cloverfield Lane

The prequel to "Cloverfield" is an ode to the menace of John Goodman, who steals this show.




Date: 2016
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Sarita Choudhury, Alexander Black, Sidse Babett Knudsen

A Hologram for the King

Allan Clay (Tom Hanks) is a former Schwinn bike exec whose career went belly up when the company dumped Made in the U.S.A. for China, a decision that still gives him nightmares. Now a middle aged traveling salesman employed by an IT company, he's dispatched to Saudi Arabia to sell the king on a hologram-driven teleconferencing system for an as yet unbuilt city-in-the-dunes. Why Allan? He once "met" the king's nephew (in a men's room). He's a sweet but soupy figure saddled with a messy divorce (of course), prone to panic attacks (of course), and entirely amiable (it's Hanks, after all).

Once Allan gets to Saudi he's immediately up against set-piece obstacles created to spoof cultural differences (the Saudis procrastinate, the kingdom is a no-beer kind of place, and the much-hyped metropolis is a few buildings and a lot of PR). Since bumbling, jet-lagged Allan can't seem to wake early enough to catch the shuttle, he finds himself with garrulous "chauffeur" Yousef (Alexander Black) who likes Chicago, ELO and Elvis and offers up prepackaged quips like "We don't have unions, we have Filipinos." And since Allan is also insecure, a worrywart, he just so happens to have a very large real wart on his back, a lump that will eventually push him into the tender loving care of a Saudi woman doctor (British-Indian actress Sarita Choudhury). And guess what?

Much as German Tom Tykwer, an able director, seeks to create a vintage Hanks romantic comedy with light-hearted cultural clash as a side-order, he can't get very far with a hackneyed script in which Everyman Hanks is asked to lean on his endearing but one-note "please take me seriously" routine until happily ever after takes over. "You've been on the bench for a while," his impatient boss tells him, and even that gag gets the full monty as Allan can't seem to find a chair in all Saudi Arabia that doesn't break when he sits on it.

What we have here is a well-intentioned stranger-in-a-strange land flick with a boy-meets-girl twist that feels like a prosthetic. We're asked to laugh at the stranger and the land, while letting the former steal our hearts. Hanks does that. He never fails to. But the Saudi side of the exercise is a sham, and that's a pity since it leaves Hanks' Allan to inhabit cliché. Based on a considerably more nuanced Dave Eggars novel.

Reviewed by: Marcia Yarrow
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