Bureaucracy is brighter and more yielding in “The Terminal.” That’s what’s wrong with it. Hanks is playing a schmo rendered stateless after his made-up Eastern European nation (Krakozhia!) undergoes a coup. He’s just landed at a New York airport, is denied entry to the United States and can’t exit until his country gets its act together. In the meantime, he’s got the run of the place. There’s a way to watch this movie where Hanks’s impersonation of a Slavic St. Bernard leaves you delighted to be covered in his slobber. He’s an impossible comic marvel of excess and complexity.
But another way to watch “The Terminal” is interrogatively. Hanks spends the movie being helped out by a Mexican (Diego Luna), an African-American (Chi McBride) and an Indian (Kumar Pallana) who all do support work around the airport. How long would this movie be if Spielberg, working from a script credited to Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, had somehow made it about one of them? Or, in 2004, an Iraqi? It’s just to say that his wonder here is all wrong. I cracked up every time somebody slips on the floors that Pallana, whose tangy performance is still the best thing in the film, has purposely over-mopped. This movie is a good time, and the last 25 minutes are absurdly moving. It just doesn’t want to get near the truly emotionally, logistically harrowing business of national limbo.
Instead, it makes Hanks a Christ figure, performing minor miracles of ingenuity like turning abandoned luggage carts into quarters and quarters into Whoppers. (Catherine Zeta-Jones, as a pitifully lovelorn flight attendant, gets turned into Meg Ryan.) Hanks even does carpentry and handiwork. Stanley Tucci’s customs director is our Pontius Pilate; and Luna, McBride and Pallana apostles. It’s a fable of what somebody heard Christianity was supposed to be — cute. The sulfuric churning — the torture and terror and ambivalence and uncertainty — of faith, or Catholicism in the work of Scorsese and Abel Ferrara always gets sunnily allegorical with Spielberg. You’re at the movies. You’re also at Sunday school.
I wish I could say that “White Chicks” was in on some joke. Well, I wish I could report that the joke it’s in on was funny for 100-plus minutes. Watched a generation removed from its original targets (the Hilton sisters and the Hamptons), the movie still feels loosely ripe for the micro-age of the Becky and the Karen. (The white-girl makeup isn’t as nauseating as I remembered, either.) It’s just too busy chasing gross-out bits to reap much durable satire.