“How did I get here?” screams Tom Hanks’ divorced sales rep Alan Clay at the start of Tom Tyker’s tiresome culture-clash comedy; arguably the only convincing line of dialogue in a script that otherwise consists almost exclusively of tired clichés.
For Hanks is a true stalwart of the silver screen, always at his most charming channelling the everyman persona of Jimmy Stewart, but equally as striking when undertaking weightier, dramatic roles. In A Hologram For The King, however, the only real challenges ultimately facing his character is the structural integrity of Saudi Arabian office furniture, and a constant inability to set his alarm before falling asleep every night… Maybe it’s less a question of how he got there, and more one of why on earth did he agree to go in the first place.
By contrast, Clay’s reasons for journeying to Jeddah are simple; he’s a washed-up corporate businessman, determined to prove his worth to his superiors by closing a deal to sell the Saudi government a holographic teleconferencing system. He’s a wholesome Yank looking to pick up the pieces of his life having lost both his house and his wife during the subprime mortgage crisis (cue a multitude of fractured flashbacks), but now Alan finds himself in a hostile land where many consider women to be inferior, Wi-Fi signal is forever sloppy, and you can’t even kick back with a cool bottle of Bud at the end of a long working day. That the monarch to whom Alan and his team must pitch this software is nowhere to be seen would appear to be the least of his troubles.Taking the form of a lurid alternative to Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, Tykwer – who adapted the script himself from Dave Eggers’ 2012 novel – marries stuffy drama with sappy romance as Alan comes to see the beauty of his surroundings through the people he meets on his travels; in this case a chatty cabbie (Alexander Black) with an affinity for 80s rock, and a beautiful doctor (Sarita Choudhury) with whom he begins to connect with on a more personal level.
Unfortunately, Tykwer primarily populates this Middle-Eastern vision with a multitude of stereotypes likely to make even the most hardened republican shudder – although they’re sure to cheer the director’s extravagant efforts to illustrate America’s increasing influence on different cultures. Hanks, as ever, makes for an engaging screen presence, but he’s so much better here than the material, which is as dry as dust swept up from the desert floor.