Forbidden romance blossoms in the arid landscapes of the Middle East, irrigated here by sizzling screen chemistry between Tom Hanks and the luminous Sarita Choudhury.
Tykwer ensures that the central character’s existential crisis doesn’t weigh too heavily, courtesy of farcical narrative detours and side swipes at Saudi Arabian culture.
These polished barbs are gifted largely to Alexander Black in the scene-stealing role of a taxi driver called Yousef, who ferries Hanks’ beleaguered businessman to various meetings while commenting on the sorry state of his nation.
‘We don’t have unions here. We have Filipinos,’ quips Yousef tartly during one expedition into the desert. He also pithily describes his sweetheart as ‘sweet but dumb as a goat’.
There are big laughs too when the men awkwardly bond through the medium of American rock music.
A bulbous growth on the lead character’s back provides the film with a puss-filled metaphor for the woes that weigh down Hanks’ everyman.
Under the influence of alcohol, he attempts to lance the cyst and not for the first time, we wince at Tykwer’s film.
An opening sequence set to the Talking Heads’ anthem Once In A Lifetime introduces us to world-weary salesman Alan Clay (Hanks), who has been despatched to Riyadh to woo King Abdullah (Mohamed Attifi) with his company’s state-of-the-art 3D conferencing technology.
The problems begin when Alan oversleeps on the first morning and misses a scheduled meeting with the King’s assistant Karim Al-Ahmad (Khalid Laith).
Moreover, Alan’s on-site technical team comprising Brad (David Menkin), Cayley (Christy Meyer) and Rachel (Megan Maczko) have been consigned to a large marquee outside the main complex without access to WiFi, food or water.
Tempers fray and Alan finds an alluring ally in a Danish IT contractor called Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who knows how to party hard with her Scandinavian countrymen.
Meanwhile, the unsightly growth on Alan’s back leads him to an emergency appointment with female doctor Zahra Hakem (Choudhury), whose tender bedside manner forces the businessman to question his priorities and future.
A Hologram For The King relies heavily on Hanks’ innate likeability and comic timing, and he plies both with precision.
The plot around him feels like it might blow away in the first sandstorm, but Hanks stands firm, kindling palpable sparks with Choudhury in her underwritten role.
The pivotal sales pitch to the King almost becomes redundant, but does provide Tykwer with a bittersweet punchline to a gag he sets up much earlier in the film.
Some things are worth waiting for.