Not every comedy is for everyone (at least I think this was supposed to be a comedy). Last week I saw The Big Lebowski (1998) at the local movie theater. Packed. People in Lebowski t-shirts, people who raised hands to show they’d seen the movie five, ten, twenty times, people anticipating the laugh lines. Eighteen years from now, nothing like that will happen with this film (trailer) from German director Tom Twyker.
Tom Hanks is American businessman Alan Clay, whose marriage is over and whose career as a salesman is on the skids. In what appears to be a last chance at success, he’s sent to Saudi Arabia to sell the king on a costly holographic teleconferencing system for a new city being built in the desert. He encounters bureaucratic delays, clandestine alcohol consumption, confounding cultural gaps, and unexpected romance.
Where I messed up was in thinking, “Oh, Tom Hanks. He’s always great.” Someone so talented just wouldn’t be in a mediocre film. Why would he? And, I thought, “Oh, Dave Eggers wrote the book it’s based on. Got lots of praise for it too.” For example, New York Times reviewer Pico Iyer called the book “an anguished investigation into how and where American self-confidence got lost and — in the central word another lonely expat uses for Alan— ‘defeated.’” And the Boston Globe: “True genius.”
Someplace along the way, the promise of the book and Hanks got lost, and a more disjointed and implausible narrative is hard to imagine. When we’re told that the crowds Hanks saw at a mosque were there because “that’s where the executions are,” it’s hard to believe that a Saudi woman would take the very great risk of being alone with him, an American infidel.
Hanks does get to drive a very sexy 2015 Audi R8, briefly. But even that isn’t worth the ticket price.
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating 62%; audiences 95%. (I can only assume they don’t have many viewer ratings yet. IMDb viewers give it 6.3 stars out of 10.)