June 2, 2016
Alan Clay was an American salesman who just lost his livelihood, his house and his wife. Desperate to prove his worth and earn big in the process, he grabs a chance to sell the King of Saudi Arabia an advanced holographic teleconferencing system. However, he never expected the endless delays he would encounter there, leading him to various encounter new people and experience their exotic culture first hand.
Having a look inside Saudi Arabia would have been very interesting for us who would probably have no real chance to go visit there. However, a failed depressed salesman was probably not the best tour guide to show us around. Even if that salesman was played by Tom Hanks. The humor was mild at best, and not really sharp. There was really nothing much Hanks could do to lift the tedium out of the dry, anecdotal, ultimately pointless material.
All the time Clay spent waiting for nothing and all the runaround he met with his contacts, these also took their toll on the glacial pace of the storytelling. He also developed a big lump on his back, which probably symbolized the internal pressure he was experiencing. (This lump actually reminded me of the big boil the character of Coco Martin had on his butt in Brillante Mendoza's "Serbis".) In separate episodes, Clay accidentally entered Mecca, told a lame joke about the CIA, saw a wolf in a rifle crosshatch, drove a sleek new Audi -- all of which led absolutely nowhere.
I liked the chemistry between Hanks and Alexander Black (who played his gregarious driver Yousef) which was vital. Black though seemed more American than Arab. Clay's relationship with his lady Saudi doctor Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) was entirely unbelievable for me the way their story was told. I don't know anymore if all the other supposedly Arabic traits and culture being shown were accurate or not. Aside from Arabs, there were indirect digs about the permissiveness of Danes and the cutthroat business sense of the Chinese.
This is not the typical Tom Hanks film we expect. Usually, even if it was deadly serious, like "Captain Phillips" or "Bridge of Spies", there is an engaging story to draw us in. In this uneven film, there was nothing to root for. If there was one positive element I could cite,it would be its rich cinematography of the barren Arabian desert and the crystal blue sea water with its rich coral bed. Otherwise, there was nothing really compelling in the story (adapted from the novel by Dave Eggers) to keep us interested or even awake.
Director Tom Tykwer had previously gained my admiration for films like "Run Lola Run" (1998) and "Perfume" (2006), both stories told with cinematic skill. But this time, the two film veteran Toms (Hanks and Tykwer) have a misfire. 4/10.
P.S. This was rated R-13 locally. I believe there were scenes of a sensitive nature here that should have earned it an R-16 rating.