Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Hologram for the King (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Hologram for the King

"A Hologram for the King," the latest from director Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run, Perfume) and based on the novel by Dave Eggers, goes down easy. It is a light bubbly and entertaining film, despite its breezy tone.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is a middle aged tech salesman who doesn't feel quite right. He has always known how to handle the business world aside from having to speak to his team about being laid off. But, as luck would have it, Alan is en route to speak to the Saudi king about a hologram system. Things may be looking up.

When he arrives in Saudi Arabia nothing is as it seems. He is late. The king is nowhere to be found and his software personnel are listless and enervated. Alan is vexed at every turn. He confronts the front desk, helmed by the formal Maha (Almira El Sayid). She tells him that his contact is busy and furthermore, the king is not expected. A "Groundhog Day" story arises and this is fun, given that Hanks is so earnest and aghast at every obstacle.

Alan meets Yousef (Alexander Black ) a comical and gregarious cab driver. A rapport develops. He also meets Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a down to earth Danish ex-patriate. She gives him liquor. During a boozy interlude he notices a growth on his back. Enter the alluring yet all-business doctor (Sarita Choudhury) who examines him.

The best parts of the film are those containing a sense of mystery. In the opening scene, Hanks is singing the famous Talking Heads song "Once in A Lifetime" where his house, wife and car dissolve in a puff of purple smoke. In another scene, his computer generates an Image of his daughter that invades his hotel room. These moments give the film a refreshing quickness, full of quirk and zip.

Lively too, is the friendship between Alan and Yousef. Their dialogue is spirited, gently zany and authentic. It is only during the last half of the film, when the doctor and Alan exchange emails and half-intimacies, that the story loses a bit of its momentum. Such voiceovers are the stuff of romantic comedy and the correspondence feels commonplace and deja view, (ala You've Got Mail) balanced against the humor of Yousef and Alan's eerie curiousity for Saudi Arabia and the fine unusual touches.

The alliance between doctor and patient is a little too pat, their tryst a bit too sundry under a sun that never theatens. Actors Hanks and Choudhury have interest and mystique but once they meet and share, the exchanges seem a shade Hallmark. Beyond initial sparks, the two never ignite.

Tom Hanks does handily once more as the sympathetic Everyman, eager to listen and explore.In his many roles, he has turned the expression of earnest surprise into his trademark.  And after all, who better than Hanks to show us that Saudi Arabia need not be threatening and innaccessible?

As swift and Pop as it is, the narrative is a missed opportunity. With its setting and freewheeling happenstance, these characters possess charge and magic. If the film didn't ultimately drift into the realm of romantic convention, "A Hologram for the King" would have made a creative elixir instead of a mirage.

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