The Mosquito Coast review – a disappointingly loose adaptation crossing the border

April 30, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Apple TV+, TV Reviews
2.5

Summary

The Mosquito Coast abandons a lot of what made its source material great to remodel itself in the image of prestige TV. It’s fine, but its own protagonist would hate it.

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2.5

Summary

The Mosquito Coast abandons a lot of what made its source material great to remodel itself in the image of prestige TV. It’s fine, but its own protagonist would hate it.

This review of The Mosquito Coast is spoiler-free.


The great irony of The Mosquito Coast – one of several, as it happens – is that it’s a story about a man who hates corporate America airing on Apple TV+. I’m sure Allie Fox (Justin Theroux) would hate that if he knew, but then again he seems to hate everything, perhaps contemporary consumer culture most of all, which is another irony since his whole shtick is convincing people to buy the sh*t he’s selling.

I don’t mean that literally, although there’s a subplot in the first two episodes of this new seven-part adaptation involving a homemade ice machine that Allie is trying to flog for getaway cash. But most of what Allie is peddling is ideological; he’s a techno-paranoiac fugitive in love with sustainable living and himself, torturing his wife Margot (Melissa George) and his kids Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) by keeping them basically locked away in a MacGuyver house in the sticks of Stockton, California. Allie is on the run from the authorities for reasons that everybody seems curious about but nobody seems willing to explain, which is a point of frustration across the two episodes Apple is leading with.

Theroux, who is admittedly very good here, is the nephew of Paul Theroux, who wrote the same-titled 1981 novel on which this series is (loosely) based. That material also inspired the 1986 Peter Weir film starring Harrison Ford, which hewed much closer to the source. The most prescient thing this version of The Mosquito Coast has to say about capitalism is how quickly it morphs into a knockoff of Breaking Bad and Ozark, repackaging a primetime TV template to bring an old story to a new audience. Whether or not the show recognizes this about itself is anyone’s guess.

Unlike the book, Allie doesn’t flee America because he’s sick of it, but because the U.S. government, embodied mostly by a couple of NSA agents played by Kimberly Elise and James LeGros, are hot on his tail. The premiere spends enough time with the family before they’re forced to flee that we get a decent sense of the dynamics: Margot feels trapped by the life but is still entranced by Allie’s way of looking at and doing things; Charlie idolizes his father but knows, on some level, that there’s a wide world out there that he hasn’t been made privy to; and Dina craves normality, a regular teen life with a regular teen boyfriend and an iPhone. Margot and the kids exist in the thrall of Allie’s self-obsession, but the show lets him off a bit by having antagonists – the police in the first episode, the police and a border militia in the second – force him into exile. It’s a curious choice, safer and less interesting than the original version.

The upside of this approach is that it gives Allie’s family more to do, and the clashing perspectives help to widen the story’s scope. Margot, in particular, is a fuller figure, and her relationship with her husband – pay attention to how her tearful begging gives way to lusty excitement whenever he delivers a new sales pitch about their next “adventure” – is complicated enough to be an intriguing new wrinkle. But mostly The Mosquito Coast feels like a dilution of a more enduring story’s themes and ideas – exactly the kind of thing Allie would despise.

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