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Film review: in A Hologram for the King, Tom Hanks has a midlife crisis in Saudi Arabia

An erratic plot and bland third act make A Hologram for the King dull watching

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 5:32pm

2.5/5 stars

What starts off as an intriguing Kafkaesque story about a businessman waiting to meet a king in an unbuilt desert city in Saudi Arabia unexpectedly metamorphoses into a dull romance. Viewers looking for undemanding fare with a touch of melancholy might find something in it, but others will feel ripped off by an increasingly erratic plot and a bland third act.

Based on a novel by Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King features Hanks as Alan, a tech salesman trying to sell a futuristic holographic communications system to the Saudis. The only problem is that his contacts rarely ever show up. Wearing his best Willy Loman shoes – which are always filled with sand – Hanks plays an almost broken man suffering from divorce and financial hardship, only to be saved by the love of a good woman in the form of a Saudi doctor (British-Indian actress Sarita Choudhury).

Book review: A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers

The film is a light comedy, which is a rare thing in today’s brash and loud movie scene, but it’s hardly Billy Wilder. A running joke about chairs breaking when Hanks sits on them gives a good idea what to expect. Hanks even has a comic sidekick in the shape of the soft-rock obsessed chauffeur Yousef (Alexander Black), a character who seems to have learned about Arab culture by watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Aside from some swipes at China, there is very little political or social comment in A Hologram for the King. Saudi Arabia (actually Morocco here) is depicted as swish hotels, high-end sports cars, marvellous hospitals, and very hot women. Alan’s main squeeze is a Saudi, so the repression of women in the kingdom does get a mention, but it’s played down in favour of the feel-good aspects of the story.

A Hologram for the King opens on August 18

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