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The Mosquito Coast (May 6/02)

The Mosquito Coast, based on the novel by Paul Theroux, manages to do the impossible: It makes Harrison Ford come off as a jerk. But despite this (or maybe because of this), The Mosquito Coast is a compelling little movie.

Ford stars as Allie, a brilliant inventor who's never really put his talents to good use. He spends much of his time lamenting the current state of America, which is chock full of fast food joints and welfare leeches. Along with his wife and three kids, he lives a fairly comfortable life - taking odd jobs repairing things. In his spare time, he just happens to invent things like a machine that can instantly make ice using fire as fuel. But one day, he gets sick of the American way of life and convinces his family to move to a place called the Mosquito Coast somewhere in South America. He's actually purchased a small area of land in that vicinity, which basically makes him mayor with a constituency of around 20 people. Allie and family proceed to turn the villagers lives upside down, initially for the better (they build quite an impressive little town, complete with a gigantic ice-making machine), but eventually, Allie begins to relish the power a bit too much and it's all downhill from there.

It really is an intriguing concept, and Ford's never been better. Though he tends to be the sort of actor that basically plays himself in every movie, here he shows a side of himself we've never seen before - the obnoxious side. This isn't a guy that you'd want to know in real life, and if you did know him, you'd spend a lot of time trying to stay out of his way. He spouts lengthy diatribes on the way he thinks the world should be, which basically consists of as little government intervention as possible and no big companies. So, when he moves his family to this remote spot, he figures he's going to have it made in the shade. It's a testament to Ford's talent that we actually care what happens to him, because in a lesser actor's hands, we'd be hoping that some cannibalistic natives would eat him.

Director Peter Weir doesn't exactly keep the pace brisk, but that works here. We need time to get used to Allie before we're thrust into the congo, and Weir's steady direction allows for that. Also worth mentioning is River Phoenix's work as Allie's loyal but skeptical son. As was the case in Stand by Me, Phoenix was an exceptionally capable young actor. In The Mosquito Coast, he really had his work cut out for him playing this conflicted kid but he certainly proved he could hold his own against a heavyweight like Harrison Ford.

The Mosquito Coast is just the sort of intelligent, risky fare that's sorely missing from today's theaters. Check it out.

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