While it is bound for it to be one of Tom Hanks lesser seen films, it will stand endurably as a key example to Hanks’ offbeat seriocomic range and penchant for occasional odd taste. A Hologram for the King takes Hanks’ lonely businessman to Saudi Arabia to sell a high-tech hologram to the king, that will be featured in a yet to be built city in the middle of the desert projected to be fully functional in 2025. This concept allows for culture clash comedy, but writer Dave Eggers (based on his novel) and director Tom Tykwer – while they never come up with something earth-shattering – continue to strive for more notes and unexpected diversions to keep it interesting. An opening music number where Hanks finds himself in a music video/ dream based on “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads, is an example of its artistic eccentricity.
Once landed, Alan Clay (Hanks) is given a paranoid taxi driver named Yousef (Alexander Black) to take him to work everyday, whom fails to see why his taste for westernized music such as Elvis Presley and Chicago at their most emotional, can be abrasive to hear early in the morning. Clay finds his IT team has been neglected of food, Wi-Fi and air conditioning. The further problem is the absence of the king and his counselor. Are they hiding in the one standing high-tech building across the lot?
Clay needs the sale because of the cost of his divorce, the inability to return his daughter to college with tuition money. These stresses add up, especially manifest in the boil growing on his back. Clay ultimately has to see a doctor, who is played by veteran character actress Sarita Choudhury, whose doctor is Saudi but has interests in Westernized ways of doing things. There is an unexpected warm development between them, played in moments as well as “Lost in Translation” or “Code 46,” and for this story she becomes more a destination than the big hologram sale.
“Hologram” goes off occasionally and does try to play a few notes too many. But this is a kind change-of-pace for Hanks, taking on a challenge with a character who has unconventional challenges on this exotic detour.
97 Minutes. Rated R.
COMEDY-DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / MILD & CHARMING AFTERNOON
Film Cousins: “Lost in Translation” (2003); “Code 46” (2003); “The Terminal” (2004); “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (2012).