This Death of a Modern Salesman redux is mystifyingly devoid of a dramatic arc -- but, on the other hand, Hanks' enduring likability and skill make it all easier to swallow. Throughout the film, Clay asks questions but gets no real responses. Business connections are promised, but the Saudis rarely fulfill them. Over and over we're shown that Clay is trapped in both a cultural gap that's blocking his business deal and a personal gap that's blocking his life. It's as if the movie has decided not be a storytelling vehicle but rather a virtual experience simulator that recreates in us Alan's discomfort, depression, and desire to drown the pain in booze.
It's no surprise that you can't help feeling the same yen for oblivion while watching. Just when it seems like a point is about to be made, there is no point. Through an error, the driver takes Clay through Mecca -- even though it's strictly forbidden to bring non-Muslims into the holy city -- but the episode has no consequences and no discernible meaning. Then, the movie actually gets interesting when Clay takes a chance on love but, to reiterate the theme of stoppage, the movie abruptly ends about 12 minutes later. This is particularly odd in that the action begins with the promise of quirky, otherworldly insight, as Hanks sings the words to The Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" while, as the lyrics dictate, his house and wife go poofing away into thin air. Around 90 minutes later, the credits roll, leaving the plot poofing away into thin air, too.