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Film review: "A Hologram for the King"


Adapted from Dave Eggers' 2012 novel, "A Hologram for the King" stars Tom Hanks as Alan Clay, a sadsack American business consultant in the midst of an existential crisis. With a failed marriage and a loving but increasingly distant daughter, Clay is at a crossroads when he arrives in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to pitch a new holographic teleconferencing technology to the king.

The company Clay works for is hoping to capitalize on the king's long-term plan to turn the country's barren desert into a thriving metropolis. But once he's there, the king's representatives keep delaying the meeting, leaving Alan and his team hanging, surrounded by a culture that remains consistently beyond their comprehension. It's "Waiting For Godot" in the Middle East as Clay battles with the country's inscrutable bureaucracy, represented by the disconcerting visual of a single, gleaming office building standing oasis-like in the middle of the desert. The Saudi Arabia depicted in the film is a place of contrasts, with a people governed by the old ways but preoccupied with the shiny and new.

Director Tom Tykwer ("Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," "Run Lola Run") fills the story with playfully absurdist touches, like the opening nightmare sequence in which Hanks sing-shouts the lyrics to "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. It kicks off the film in high-energy fashion, even if it doesn't quite match up with the rather melancholy story that follows. The entire film is a mishmash of tones that never fully gels. With its meandering, fish-out-of-water story, the film often feels like a descendent of Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," which similarly explored an American's feelings of dislocation and estrangement in a strange and foreign land.

Alan gradually develops a friendship with his 70's rock-loving driver, Yousef (Alexander Black), as well as a tentative relationship with Dr. Hakim (SaritaChoudhury), a female Saudi doctor who treats him for a strange lump that's mysteriously appeared on his back. As these relationships build, the story occasionally crosses into Òmiddle-aged white guy gets his groove back thanks to the exotic Middle Easterners' territory, but Hanks is such a pro that his performance allows more honest emotion to shine through than that description might imply. "Hologram" is a minor oddity, but Hanks' wearily endearing performance serves as a reminder that heÕs still one of the best actors working today.