“Goodbye America, have a nice day!” Harrison Ford declared in Peter Weir’s 1986 The Mosquito Coast.
Based on Paul Theroux’s novel, the film centred around stubborn inventor Allie Fox uprooting his family from Massachusetts to the jungles of Central America leading to a slow descent into madness…
Now Justin Theroux, Paul Theroux’s nephew, undertakes the same role in a new 10 part series for Apple TV+. Whilst it differs markedly from the film, it stands on its own and fairly successfully at that.
Fox may still be trying to patent his ice-from-fire invention to little success but he’s not exactly the harmless boffin he once was. He bans his kids Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) and Dina (Logan Polish) from having technology: phones, TV, gaming, while wife Margot (Melissa George) is kept estranged from her parents, for reasons which will become clearer.
He also sees injustice and commercialism everywhere, angered by local poverty and the system as a whole. Better not tell him it’s Apple making this story?
If Harrison Ford was an obsessed genius, Justin Theroux’s Fox could be bordering on abusive or showing warning signs of possible domestic violence. It makes one uneasy about the family relationships, but if that’s the intent it makes the central character pretty unlikeable.
Meanwhile the bank is looking to foreclose on their house and Charlie spots a suspicious-looking black SUV tracking their moves -a triggering point for Fox to flee the ‘safety’ of their home before they are caught. It isn’t made clear why this family is on the run, but I suspect it is more than just parking fines or greenies smoking weed…
Three episodes in and the family are yet to hit the ocean, as writers Neil Cross & Tom Bissell ramp up the cat and mouse chase from government agents (Kimberly Elise, John J. Concado) towards the Mexican border. The kids question their father’s motives more than mum Margot, despite the obvious peril dad places the family in.
But the chase also has the net effect of turning what was once a character study into something of a road movie. Theroux certainly commits to the manic role but Melissa George needs to take a tad more control of the situation, or at least challenge her husband here.
Special mention goes to the teens Logan Polish and Gabriel Bateman, following on from Hilary Gordon and River Phoenix (sob) respectively. They are solid kids, conflicted by their love for their father and an inexplicable plan to go off the grid.
It’s nevertheless entertaining, and the upcoming jungle scenes may prove to deliver new ideas. But at 10 episodes you may also get itchy for the 2hr movie.
The Mosquito Coast begins Friday April 30 on Apple TV+.