He is one of the most popular – and simply one of the best ever in his profession. Statistics prove it and he has the accolades to back it up. He has more hits and a higher percentage of hits than most in his profession could ever dream of. His successes also helped many others in their careers. Whether he walked or was running, he was rarely off base. In fact, he has the best on-base percentage in baseball history. I'm talking, of course, about Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox slugger, 1939-1942 and 1946-1960 (his career interrupted by World War II). Williams is close behind Babe Ruth in career home runs, slugging percentage and walks, has the highest career batting average in the past 100 years, the highest on-base percentage ever and his impressive RBI totals helped add to the run stats of many other players.
Who did you think I was talking about? Well, yeah, I guess that most of what I just said about Ted Williams is true about Oscar-winning actor-producer Tom Hanks as well. Hanks also has a remarkably high career batting average – at the box office, but even the best don't get a hit every single time. The comedy-drama "A Hologram for the King" (R, 1:37) is a rare whiff for one of our most popular actors.
Hanks is Alan Clay, a washed-up, put-upon Boston corporate salesman on a business trip to Saudi Arabia. Alan's father (Tom Skeritt) criticizes him, his ex-wife (Jane Perry) hounds him and his college-aged daughter (Tracey Fairaway) is caught in the middle. Alan's boss (Eric Myers) belittles him and makes unreasonable demands, like the exact time when the ruler of a Muslim country will sit down for a tech presentation.
Alan is in Saudi Arabia with a 3-person tech team from his company, hoping to sell the king a video teleconferencing system which features a hologram of the person on the other end of the call. The king is building a new business center out in the desert and Alan's team is in the exhibition hall waiting to hear when the king will stop by. The exhibition hall is a nearby tent where the air conditioning only works some of the time, the wi-fi doesn't work at all and there is no food. Alan's repeated trips over to the business center to find solutions are met with indifference and Alan grows increasingly frustrated.
Personally, Alan is having a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings – in every way imaginable. He gets some help with the obvious culture shock from his driver, Yousef (Alexander Black), a Saudi national who once lived in the U.S., orients Alan to the culture and provides the film's comic relief. Alan also has problems with oversleeping, finding a drink in a country where alcohol is officially banned and is occupied with concern about a mysterious new growth in the middle of his back. For that first one, he has Yousef, for the second, a very friendly Danish businesswoman (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and for the third, a female doctor (Indian actress Sarita Choudhury), with whom he would like to become friendlier.
"A Hologram for the King" may not sound like a lot of fun, but
it's even less fun that it sounds. Hanks is game, but after the movie's bizarre narrative opening (set to "Once in a Lifetime" by The Talking Heads) and a long period in which Hanks does little more than scowl, complain and look surprised and/or distressed, even watching Tom Hanks becomes tiresome. His signature charm doesn't show up until late in the film and by then it is too little too late. The supporting cast is solid, but not enough to adequately support Hanks, who gets walked at the plate, then appears winded as he rounds the cinematic bases.
Of course, it would help if the story were better. The film is based on Dave Eggers' 2012 novel (a National Book Award finalist) and was adapted by German writer-director Tom Tykwer, who also directs this film and previously collaborated with Hanks on 2012's disappointing "Cloud Atlas". This fish-out-of-water (and-in-the-desert) story follows a template similar to Bill Murray's 2015 "Rock the Kasbah" (which was more fun) and Tina Fey's 2016 "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" (which was funnier). Those movies were marginally enjoyable, but this one is less so. It also has elements similar to Hanks' "Cast Away" (2000), but is not as interesting. The climactic scene referred to in the title film's title is decidedly anti-climactic and the rest of the plot points are well-meaning but uninspiring. Of course, like baseball great Ted Williams, Hanks' reputation as one of the all-time greats in his field is well-deserved and secure, but I have to say that it feels like he struck out in his latest plate appearance. "C+"
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