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'The Mosquito Coast' review: Justin Theroux series is unrecognizable from both the book and movie

Justin Theroux and Melissa George in "The Mosquito

Justin Theroux and Melissa George in "The Mosquito Coast." Credit: Apple TV+

SERIES "The Mosquito Coast"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming Friday on Apple TV+

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Allie Fox (Justin Theroux, "The Leftovers'') is working at a factory farm near Stockton, Ca., while his wife, Margot (Melissa George, "The Good Wife") is a college professor working out of their home. Both have a secret that has forced them to this remote part of California's Central Valley where they have been hiding from the law. They've enforced a no-electronics-or-phones policy on their teen kids, Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman, "Child's Play"), but dogged Federal agent Jones (Kimberly Elise) learns where they are anyway. Forced to flee to Mexico, the family is helped by former "coyote" Chuy Padilla (Scotty Tovar).

The series is based on the book by Paul Theroux (Justin's uncle) of the same name and the movie starring Harrison Ford.

MY SAY "The Mosquito Coast'' (1981) was a Theroux bestseller, while the film (1986) a resounding Harrison Ford flop, so one can only imagine the early pitch meetings with Apple TV + about a reboot. Why this? Why now? Mostly just why.

Like the book, the Peter Weir-directed film was an allegory about the progress/ regress of Western civilization, while the plot was about a nut — Allie — who built a huge ice machine in the jungle, which blew up just before he was slain by a Jim Jones-like preacher.

This downer had a message: Allie couldn't escape America because he was America. Meanwhile, audiences couldn't escape the theaters fast enough.

Then as now, audiences don't much like allegories or deep-thinks about the evils of American enterprise. Apple presumably doesn't either so this adaptation represents a work-around solution — a huge one.

At least in this first season (this review is based on the first five episodes) "The Mosquito Coast" isn't remotely "The Mosquito Coast," but a vague approximation, with a couple of the characters' names left intact. There's not an allegory in sight either, ditto giant ice machines.

Justin Theroux's Allie does retain some of Ford's smoldering disdain for American-style capitalism, but mostly he's a DIY-type with a talent for tinkering and for alienating people. His Allie is initially endearing, soon annoying and finally exasperating while his own brand of narcissism is along the lines of: "follow me! I know exactly what I'm doing!"

He doesn't of course and it's left to George's Margot to ground both him and the series. She's enterprising and tough — the Bonnie to his Clyde — with a relatable mother-knows-best core. At least she's a little more likable.

Adapted by veteran British producer Neil Cross ("Luther'') and veteran journalist Tom Bissell, their "Mosquito Coast'' also has a made-for-TV gimmick: That deep secret that both husband and wife hide from everyone, including their own children. They're on the run from the law, but why? Did they once rob a string of McDonald's? Fort Knox maybe?

The Foxes head south, a step ahead of pursuing Feds, on a collision course with border patrols and sinister drug lords. The story flirts with ideas about illegal immigration and the desperate real-life perils that face those who come north from the other side of the border.

But flirt only. This high-octane action/thriller with some eye-rolling climaxes learned a key lesson from that movie: Don't think, just do. It does a whole lot of that.

BOTTOM LINE Imperfect, often entertaining, unrecognizable from book or movie.

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