Terminal (United Kingdom/Hong Kong/United States, 2018)

May 11, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Terminal Poster

At its best, Terminal is a tasty, tangy parfait – a kaleidoscope of neon-tinged visuals and a twisty storyline with a tortured time line. The glue that holds everything together is Margot Robbie’s high-energy, off-kilter performance, influenced in no small part by her turn as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Robbie delivers every line of dialogue, no matter how inconsequential, with a snarl that’s equally intimidating and strangely erotic. Unfortunately, as enticing as Terminal is for about 2/3 of its running time, it loses steam as it limps toward a Usual Suspects­-inspired, anticlimactic (albeit off-the-wall) ending.

Most of the action transpires in or around Terminal, an all-night diner where a waitress named Annie (Robbie) dispenses a side dish of edgy advice to go along with the usual greasy spoon fare. The other characters prowling the environs are a pair of assassins (Max Irons and Dexter Fletcher) who are crammed together in a hotel room waiting for their next assignment and getting on each other’s nerves; a terminally ill teacher (Simon Pegg) pondering the end of his life; and a janitor (the reclusive Mike Myers, making his first feature film appearance in nearly a decade) who cleans up all sorts of unpleasant messes. Presiding over everything is the mysterious Mr. Franklin, the puppeteer who enjoys having lowlifes dance to his tune. Annie intends to make herself indispensable to Mr. Franklin the best way she knows how: eliminate the competition while settling a few scores along the way.

The least noteworthy thing about Terminal is the story, a tired noir-ish tale of deceit, double-crosses, and narrative switchbacks. It’s serviceable material – at least until the last act when, like the book it often references (Alice in Wonderland), it goes down a rabbit hole. The final ten minutes of Terminal are as audacious as they are unsatisfying. It’s a strange way to end the movie because there’s an expectation for something…more. The film proves unable to deliver at the end.

Robbie’s performance is riveting and the movie suffers when she’s not on screen. At the film’s beginning, she provides a bit of voiceover narration in which she says, “…to survive it, you need to be mad as a hatter. Which luckily, I am.” With all apologies to Johnny Depp, there’s no question who gives the livelier interpretation. Drawing on the colorful elements she brought to Harley Quinn, Robbie mesmerizes. Her interactions with Pegg are memorable as she manipulates him; she’s like a cat in a room of mice – always ready to pounce, always toying with her prey.

For Vaughn Stein, making his feature debut, this is a study in color and lighting. His neo-noir palette is fueled by the garish neon glow of the signage that dominates the skyline. The aesthetic has all the deep shadows demanded by the genre but Stein amps things up by enhancing the color of certain scenes, all the while hinting at the decay hidden by the artificially bright and cheerful lighting.

With Terminal, the strength of the stylistic elements and Robbie’s performance aren’t sufficient to overcome the deficiencies of an initially derivative and ultimately off-kilter narrative. The film’s only surprise is how unsurprising everything is and how the various “twists” ultimately contribute to a generic, predictable ending.

Terminal (United Kingdom/Hong Kong/United States, 2018)

Director: Vaughn Stein
Cast: Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Mike Myers, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher
Home Release Date: 2018-06-26
Screenplay: Vaughn Stein
Cinematography: Christopher Ross
Music: Anthony Clarke, Rupert Gregon-Williams
U.S. Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2018-05-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1