Apple TV+ review: The Mosquito Coast
James R | On 06, Jun 2021
This review contains mild spoilers.
“How are we gonna get up river, you ask? We’re getting a boat!” Those are the words of father and husband Allie Fox (Justin Theroux) as he tries to convince his wife and kids to be excited about the latest stage in their unusual road trip. It’s a declaration met with muted enthusiasm – and it’s hard not to have a similar reaction while watching.
Allie is an inventor, a brilliant one with a taste for breaking free from America’s commercialised world of capitalism and corrupted principles. We know this, because we’re told so repeatedly by him and his wife, Margot (Melissa George), as they’re chased by shady government types. Going on the run, they flee across the border to Mexico and further beyond to keep them and their kids – Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) – safe.
But what becomes clear from almost the opening episode is that Allie is such a genius that his main concern is himself and his ideas, and we see him drag his family into danger again and again, while reassuring them that “everything’s complicated, but there’s always a solution” or something similar. Need a former cartel member – Chuy (Scotty Tovar) – to help them enter Mexico illicitly? No problem, just invent a faraday cage to help void his tracking tag. In a hot spot with a risky journey ahead? Just send Charlie to the shops to pick up some tape, a first aid kit and other assorted items.
The script – adapted from Paul Theroux’s bestselling novel by a writing team led by Luther creator Neil Cross – relies upon Allie’s apparent quick-thinking to drive the narrative forward, while keeping us, like his kids, in the dark as to what exactly he’s done to make him such an important target. It’s not a bad approach to take, but it’s pulled off with a frustrating ear for pacing – even with varying episode runtimes, it’s hard to feel any reason to root for this family and their egotistic patriarch.
That is, in a way, testament to how well Justin Theroux plays the arrogant man, and the rest of the cast too are excellent at calling him out on his self-centred world view. The visuals are slick too, from the opening titles closing in on our protagonists to the gorgeous use of locations (Charlie and Dina taking time away from their parents to explore Mexico City gives us a refreshing change to familiar stereotypes).
But that doesn’t solve the central challenge of an enigma that’s not engaging – you know you have a problem when a scene involving the always-excellent Paterson Joseph leaves even his menacing villain feeling aimlessly repetitive. The result is a frustrating voyage rather than a visceral one, and that sting in The Mosquito Coast’s tale undoes a lot of the show’s otherwise good work. It’s a vividly told trip up river, but you feel the current working against you every step of the way.
The Mosquito Coast is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.