“The Mosquito Coast” is the product of a series of perplexing decisions, starting with the decision to re-adapt Paul Theroux’s 1981 novel and place it in a contemporary setting. The consequence is a creepier-than-perhaps-even-intended sequence that resembles a poor man’s “Breaking Bad: Family Edition,” to put it mildly.
The presence of actor-producer Justin Theroux (“The Leftovers”), who is Paul Theroux’s nephew, in the central role of Allie Fox, the “radical idealist” who prefers to live off the grid with his wife and kids, is the main point of interest here. Yet, as the family flees to Mexico, writer-producer Neil Cross (“Luther”) has embellished that with even more disturbing characteristics, as they engage in a series of risky experiences and dubious decisions that make them look like both dumb and ugly Americans.
The biggest issue, and it’s a major one, is that there’s no one here to cheer for or like. Certainly not Theroux’s Fox, who drags his adolescent children (Logan Polish and Gabriel Batemen) into dangerous circumstances, nor his wife Margot (Melissa George), who, despite her pained expressions, is more than a little complicit in the ordeal.
The brutality of the kids’ plight is amplified by the 21st-century environment, which deprives them of things like cellphones and makes Allie’s power over them feel more unhinged in a doomsday prepper kind of way.
“Why is he making you live the way you do?” the federal agent (Kimberly Elise) who is following them asks the daughter. It’s an unhelpful issue that hangs over the whole exercise.
Cross essentially joins the plot in progress, with the Foxes on the run from the feds, giving the story a more espionage-type feel as the family must abandon everything and embark on a desert pilgrimage.
Despite Harrison Ford’s defense, the 1986 film starred Harrison Ford as the wild-eyed inventor and was one of his few notable box-office flops during those years. While the seven-episode streaming format allows the plot and characters to be fleshed out, the net result of all the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans does not, as Allie and his clan careen from run-ins with US militia members to drug cartels in Mexico, typically jumping right into the flames.
While Theroux and George bring a lot of emotion to their positions, many of the supporting characters are almost cartoonish. Cross portrays this eccentric figure without shedding much light on what he’s rebelling against or the origins of his cause, aside from a well-deserved lecture to Allie about American imperialism and his myopic self-absorption.
To be honest, there could never have been a better time for a film like “The Mosquito Coast,” but in the current avalanche of conspiracy theories, it seems like the wrong one. In the end, Apple has produced a series that not only fails to pique your interest, but also makes you want to bat it away.