Harrison Ford’s boldest adventure in acting was 1986’s “The Mosquito Coast,” in which he played Allie Fox, an eccentric inventor who puts his family in peril when he insists it start over in the jungles of Central America where he can introduce the natives to ice.
It was one of his biggest flops.
The problem with the Peter Weir-directed movie, currently streaming for free on Tubi, is that Ford’s character deteriorates into madness far too quickly so his downfall can fit neatly into a two-hour time frame. One minute, he’s Han Solo; the next, he’s a raving lunatic.
The film also goes too far to make sure viewers don’t mistake it for a “Raiders” sequel. You feel like you’re sitting through a theology class with a hangover.
A new adaptation of Paul Theroux’s bestselling book takes care of both obstacles by turning the story into a seven-part chase, but one that’s in no hurry to watch the shaky protagonist fall apart.
In the first two episodes, streaming Friday on Apple TV+, the Fox family hasn’t even made it across the American border.
But that doesn’t mean the Foxes don’t immediately face challenges more daunting than running into a jaguar.
They’re being pursued, for reasons that aren’t initially clear, by law enforcement officials who include a no-nonsense agent portrayed by Kimberly Elise.
Shootouts, poisonous snakebites, dehydration in the desert and a charming assassin writing a book called “The Glass Sandwich” soon follow.
As with “Breaking Bad” and “Ozark,” it’s great fun watching the Foxes wriggle out of impossible scenarios, like Harry Houdini escaping from shackles at the bottom of a river.
But the one enemy they may not be able to overcome is the father himself, played this time by Justin Theroux, a nifty piece of casting since he’s the nephew of the novelist.
Dad may be as resourceful as MacGyver, but he’s also convinced he’s the smartest person in any room. He refuses to let his kids eat at Denny’s or own a cellphone, probably because he sees those luxuries as competition. He wants their eyes on him and him only.
“We’re not your family, Dad,” says his 15-year-old daughter, Dina (Logan Polish), after a halfhearted attempt to run away. “We’re your audience.”
Dina isn’t the only one with chutzpah.
In the movie version, Fox’s wife, played by Helen Mirren, was about as useful as a dull pocketknife. In the series, Mom (Melissa George) is a former English professor who teaches the bad guys a lesson by firing bullets into their vans’ tires to the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.”
Giving that character some muscle is just one of the many changes from the big-screen adaptation. The movie, which is much more faithful to the 1981 novel, has a few compelling action scenes, including one in which Ford fends off some intruders by trapping them in his giant ice machine.
But when it comes to an adrenaline rush, the TV series is the hands-down winner.
Literary purists are sure to scoff. This new version alters so wildly from the original source, one suspects the producers just slapped the title “Mosquito Coast” onto the show to lure audiences in.
It may be a trick, but I hope it works.