[Screen It]


(2016) (Tom Hanks, Alexander Black) (R)

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Dramedy: A man who's lost direction his life travels to Saudi Arabia in hopes of selling 3D hologram virtual meeting software to the king, but must contend with various setbacks and obstacles.
Alan Clay (TOM HANKS) is a man who's lost direction his life. Once a promising corporate executive, his career derailed when he helped moved production of a popular American bicycle overseas, and now his marriage is ending and the family's lack of money means his daughter is going to have to take a year off from college. Hoping to reinvent himself, Alan takes a sales job for a high-tech firm and travels to Saudi Arabia in hopes of selling 3D hologram virtual meeting software to the king.

When he oversleeps and misses his transportation, he hires local driver Yousef (ALEXANDER BLACK) to drive him out to a city that doesn't exist yet, at least beyond the headquarters building for the future metropolis. Alan and his tech team -- consisting of Cayley (CHRISTY MEYER), Brad (DAVID MENKIN) and Rachel (MEGAN MACZKO) -- are put up in a nearby tent with less than ideal trappings and must then wait. But neither the King nor his assistant, Karim Al-Ahmad (KHALID LAITH), shows up, resulting in Alan becoming increasingly miffed about being forgotten, overlooked or simply ignored by those he's come to pitch.

He eventually meets Danish contractor Hanne (SIDSE BABETT KNUDSEN) who's working in the headquarters, but ends up refusing her casual sex advances at a wild party. The back and forth travel from the hotel to the future city -- as driven by Yousef -- eventually takes a toll on Alan, as does a large bump in the skin on his back. When he attempts to remedy that himself, he ends up having to see local doctor Zahra Hakem (SARITA CHOUDHURY) and finds himself smitten with this strong woman in a country not known for supporting that. As he continues with his hope of demonstrating his product, he begins to wonder if there might be something between him and Zahra.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
While some performers don't mind being typecast as narrowly defined character types in certain genres movies -- because they like the steady paychecks and/or don't have a lot of acting range and therefore must milk what they're capable of -- others hate it. They don't want to be pigeonholed as the guy who's always in dumb, shoot 'em up action films or the woman who only appears in romantic comedies.

The best are often those who can play everyday sorts of people caught up in everyday sorts of situations taken up a notch. Tom Hanks is one of those actors as he often plays an ordinary type of man who ends up reacting in entertaining ways to obstacles, setbacks and such that befall his characters.

While viewers might not know someone like Forrest Gump or Woody (at least I hope so for the latter, because a talking cowboy doll means something is amiss), they can recognize sympathetic human traits in those characters just like they can for those Hanks played in the likes of "Castaway," "Saving Private Ryan," "Sleepless in Seattle," "The Money Pit" and so on.

That trend continues in "A Hologram For The King," a dramedy based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dave Eggers. In it, Hanks plays a down on his luck salesman whose home life has fallen apart and professional one never recovered from being part of moving production of a popular American product overseas.

He's now trying to sell a 3D hologram system for virtual meetings, and to the king of Saudi Arabia no less. But various bad things threaten to undermine his upcoming sales presentation in a future city that's yet to be built in the kingdom beyond a singular headquarters building. While no one enjoys seeing bad luck repeatedly strike, it's more acceptable in a dramedy setting, and Hanks has that innate ability to make it entertaining watching his character react to such events. The film certainly sets that tone in the opening sequence (also seen in the film's trailer) where he sings but alters part of the lyrics to The Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" about looking for one's automobile, and being without a beautiful house and beautiful wife, and those various things then go up in puffs of colorful smoke.

His character then wakes up from that onboard a plane headed for Saudi Arabia where a local man (Alexander Black in a funny performance) ends up as his unofficial and somewhat whacky driver out to the site of the future city. When not interacting with his small tech team and constantly having to deal with delayed meetings with the King or his representative, Alan ends up meeting a local doctor (Sarita Choudhury) where he finally opens up and admits he's lost his direction.

It won't take a 3D hologram specialist to see where the film will be headed, but director Tom Tykwer -- working from his own adaptation of Eggers' work -- has things unfold in somewhat unorthodox ways and with occasionally unusual pacing. That prevents the flick from ever getting too predictable, but it might put off some viewers used to formulaic storylines.

There's certainly enough humor and poignancy to make it all work, and Hanks is just so good at creating likable if flawed everyday characters that you can't help but identify with and feel for him, and hope for the best. I did and thus rate "A Hologram For The King" as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed April 4, 2016 / Posted April 22, 2016

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