Tom Hanks not enough in wob­bly film adap­ta­tion

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

You can tell a lot about a movie’s qual­ity, and a di­rec­tor’s in­stincts, by the way a pro­tag­o­nist falls off a chair. In the wob­bly film ver­sion of the Dave Eg­gers novel “A Holo­gram for the King,” Tom Hanks plays an Amer­i­can busi­ness­man at odds with the fur­ni­ture, the busi­ness cus­toms and the cul­tural mores of Saudi Ara­bia. His char­ac­ter, a strug­gling for­mer Sch­winn ex­ec­u­tive named Alan Clay, has come to Jed­dah and to the nearby con­struc­tion project known as King Ab­dul­lah Eco­nomic City to pitch the king on a so­phis­ti­cated new holo­graphic tele­con­fer­enc­ing IT sys­tem.

Noth­ing goes ac­cord­ing to plan. The king and his as­so­ci­ates are al­ways some­where else, never where Alan needs them. The de­lays force Alan to deal with his thoughts and to re­flect on his re­cent di­vorce, his col­lege-age daugh­ter and his own glad-hand­ing ap­proach to life. Also he has de­vel­oped a strange hump­like growth in the mid­dle of his back, even­tu­ally tended to by a re­cently sep­a­rated Saudi doc­tor.

In var­i­ous ways, Eg­gers’ deft, plain­tive 2012 novel was made for the movies. It’s full of witty di­a­logue, and (this part is trick­ier) it’s a story in the long, check­ered lit­er­ary and cin­e­matic tra­di­tion of the white, mid­dle-aged male Amer­i­can bog­gled by lands and sit­u­a­tions pre­vi­ously un­known to him. There’s a sad so­cioe­co­nomic core to “A Holo­gram for the King,” in that Alan is both agent and vic­tim of ruth­less global busi­ness prac­tices.

Adapted and di­rected by Tom Tyk­wer, the movie down­plays every­thing in fa­vor of the bud­ding ro- MPAA rat­ing: R (for some sex­u­al­ity/nu­dity, lan­guage and brief drug use) Run­ning time: 1:37 Opens: Fri­day mance be­tween Alan and Dr. Hakem, played by the ex­cel­lent Sarita Choud­hury, best known to U.S. au­di­ences for her work on the TV se­ries “Homeland.” Get­ting there, how­ever, isn’t much fun. About those prat­falls: True to Eg­gers, Tyk­wer’s script mines Alan’s sit­u­a­tion for dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of fishout-of-wa­ter hu­mor. But some­thing’s off in the early scenes — in­deed, in most of the first half of the pic­ture. The tone and rhythms are pushy, forced, strained, like the ex­pres­sion on Hanks’ face. What should be ca­sual punc­tu­a­tion, filmed in medium shot, ends up in bam-pow close-ups. The key re­la­tion­ship be­tween Alan and his wiseacre, Amer­i­can­ized Saudi driver (played by Hous­ton-born Alexander Black) comes off as sec­ond-rate sit­u­a­tion com­edy, with­out the come- dy.

Tyk­wer co-di­rected the nutty mo­saic “Cloud At­las,” the ob­ses­sively lav­ish “Per­fume” and, ear­lier, the ki­netic “Run Lola Run.” He’s not quite right for this as­sign­ment. The ma­te­rial needed more of a dead­pan sen­si­bil­ity a la Bill Forsyth and “Lo­cal Hero,” and less overt film­mak­ing pizazz. Hanks does all he can. In­di­vid­ual mo­ments and re­ac­tions (his “zowie!” non­ver­bal re­sponse to the lo­cal for­bid­den liquor, for ex­am­ple) re­mind us that he’s aw­fully good.

When the story fo­cuses on the ten­ta­tive ro­mance, Hanks and Choud­hury fi­nesse it hon­estly and well. But “A Holo­gram for the King,” shot in Morocco, is so de­ter­mined to make sat­is­fy­ing main­stream en­ter­tain­ment out of Alan’s in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal crises, it ends up be­ing more of a glad-han­der than Alan him­self. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune News­pa­pers critic.


Tom Hanks stars in “A Holo­gram for the King,” di­rected by Tom Tyk­wer and based on Dave Eg­gers’ novel.

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