A politically correct fairy-tale for an era of displaced persons, English-language, German-made “Gate of Heaven” aims for multicultural charm but comes off as a dumbed-down “Dirty Pretty Things.” Collaboration between producer-director Veit Helmer (“Tuvalu”), co-writer Gordan Mihic (vet scenarist for Emir Kusturica and Goran Paskaljevic) and a suitably international cast is set entirely at Frankfurt Airport — a novelty that, like everything else here, refuses to take flight. Given likelihood of mild critical support at best, this stab at lightly politicized whimsy will be booking the red-eye to small-screen destinations soon.
Notion of treating a modern airport as a sort of giant playground for those stuck there has a certain appeal — even if today’s tight security measures render much action here highly far-fetched. Still, populating this semi-hidden environ with both those awaiting legal asylum and illegal immigrants in danger of deportation raises potential for a screwball-yet-relevant take on the current worldwide immigration mess.
But the esprit required is lacking in a pic that flatly resorts to everyone speaking phonetic English (even the Germans), while straining for fanciful serio-comedy via contrivance and cuteness. In a manner more typically associated with Hollywood blunders (or Europuddings of yore), “Gate” tries so calculatedly hard to please everybody that it ends up being ideally suited to no one.
Brawny Alexej (Valera Nikolaev), a deserter from the Russian Army, has landed in the airport hoosegow after failing to sneak into the country. Escaping just before deportation orders arrive, he finds himself absorbed into an invisible network of multinational emigres doing grunt work for slim earnings that will hopefully buy them black-market visas one day from cynical boss Dak (Miki Manojlovic). Others in the same boat include elderly Mongolian Muki (“Pink Panther” vet Burt Kwouk), who just wants to return home at this point, and African cipher Togo (Sotigui Kouyate).
Meanwhile young Indian woman Nisha (Masumi Makhija, pushing the saucer-eyed gamine shtick) is going through more official channels, hoping for refugee status. She’s fled an abusive husband, regrettably having to leave their small son behind — though she hopes he, too, can start a new life in the West. While awaiting the verdict, she’s put to work cleaning planes between flights, where she can also indulge fantasies of becoming a stewardess. (This leads to pic’s one production number, a silly mock-Bollywood interlude.) Taking a shine to the pretty newcomer is airport administrative chief Mr. Nowak (Udo Kier), notorious for pulling strings in exchange for sexual favors.
Despite likeable cast, characters are too simplistically drawn to win emotional involvement. Genre-parody elements, unsubtle comedy and a mile-wide sentimental streak mix awkwardly. Tech aspects are smooth, design contribs ditto if unimaginative. Given such ready novelties for instance, as luggage conveyor belts to ride on, the production could easily have made more dynamic use of the airport setting. One mission accomplished is the soundtrack’s polyglot mix of globe-spanning pop and tribal music.