Alan (Tom Hanks) is a middle-aged businessman whose life isn’t turning out how he planned. His boss doesn’t think he’s particularly good at his job, he’s divorced, and feels a bit of a failure towards his daughter as his debt means he can’t afford to pay her college tuition fees. However, he now has a new opportunity, heading off to Saudi Arabia to give a presentation about a holographic IT system to the King.
He expects to be a stranger in a strange land, but finds that in some ways things are more similar that he expected, while in others they’re more strange. He gets into a bit of a Waiting For Godot situation where he spends much of his time being palmed off and ignored as he waits for the arrival on the King, who may never turn up. He also discovers the massive city his company is hoping to get the IT contract for, is nothing but a welcome centre in the desert, waiting for other building to come along.
It is therefore a bit of a midlife crisis movie, with Alan having to look at where he is – both literally and metaphorically – and re-evaluate his situation. A strange lump of his back also brings him into contact with a beautiful Saudi doctor (Sarita Choudhury), who offers the unexpected possibility of romance.
Dave Eggers’ novel wasn’t a tale that obviously lent itself to film and the move to the screen isn’t altogether successful. That’s largely because it’s a bit dull and uneven. While it has quirky touches and a flavour of absurdity, these seem to be tipped in randomly through the movie rather than creating a style or feeling like they’re adding much to the experience. Indeed, this film almost shoots itself in the foot by opening with an excellent sequence where Alan does his own version of Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime. It starts things off brilliantly with a flash of inspiration and the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to its promise.
A Hologram For The King also has a tendency to feel like one of those friends who sounds smart, but you quickly start to wonder whether it actually knows what it’s talking about. The film touches on issues of globalisation, culture clash, the US position in the Middle East and various other things, but nothing ever goes anywhere beyond saying these things exist. When it almost unexpectedly turns into a romance, there’s a sense it’s because it’s decided it ought to go somewhere, more than because it feels that’s where it been heading all along.
Throughout the film shows promise and with Hanks starring and flashes of inspiration sporadically emerging, a really good movie it almost struggling to get out. Unfortunately though, that good film has been beaten into submission by a far less interesting one.
Overall Verdict: Rather like Alan waiting for the King, A Hologram For The King spends a long time suggesting something interesting might happen, but it never particularly does. Even Tom Hanks’ trademark charm can’t quite save it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac