By People Staff
December 01, 1986 12:00 PM

“Look around you, Charlie,” says Harrison Ford to his son as they drive down a fast-food freeway, “this place is a toilet.” Two hours later, this adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel has traveled from Middle America to Latin America, but it still hasn’t gone anywhere. In a polemic masquerading as an adventure, Ford flounders as an eccentric inventor who foresakes his homeland and takes his wife and four kids to an area of Honduras known as the Mosquito Coast. In the jungle he wants to be the emperor of his own kingdom but instead becomes what poet Wallace Stevens called the Emperor of Ice Cream, a nowhere man in a no-man’s land. As chronicled in Theroux’s novel, the journey to the Mosquito Coast was a metaphysical expedition into the power of a patriarch; in Paul Schrader’s reactionary, moralistic screenplay, it’s an outing with the Swiss Family Pat Robertson. The labored script makes the same point time and again—the self-proclaimed realist is just a different breed of impotent romantic. Peter Weir’s passionless direction doesn’t make up for the monotony, reflecting nothing like his brilliantly framed compositions of Amish farmlands in Witness. His images look as if he hasn’t caught any of Ford’s back-to-nature fever, which is imperative. Meanwhile, Ford is being confounded by one of the most problematic roles faced by any movie actor this year. There’s supposed to be a trace of humane motivation and a touch of tragedy in this deluded fellow, but forever sweaty and smug, Ford only plays him as one of those wackos on a radio call-in show at 4 in the morning. As the narrator, River Phoenix, the tough kid in Stand by Me, makes exquisite use of his deadpan face, but he’s one of the film’s few pleasures. When the movie reaches a painful and pathetic conclusion, you’re just relieved to depart from The Mosquito Coast. (PG-13)

THE BOY WHO COULD FLY

If your family’s looking for a quick holiday pick-me-up film with Santas and elves all over the place, this isn’t the one. But if your children are ready for an emotional life-isn’t-easy-never-give-up-hope lesson, there isn’t a better movie around. Director Nick (The Last Starfighter) Castle says he wants people to feel better about themselves after seeing this movie. They should, if only by comparison with what its characters go through. Bonnie (Heart Like a Wheel) Bedelia, terrific as always, and her two children move to a strange town after her husband killed himself because he had cancer. There, a bunch of bullies constantly try to beat up her little boy, 9-year-old Fred Savage. Savage’s dog, Max, gets hit by a car. Bedelia’s daughter, inspiringly played by Lucy (As the World Turns) Deakins, 15, ends up in the hospital after she falls 50 feet off a bridge. Next door to Bedelia’s new home lives an autistic teenager, Jay (Desert Bloom) Underwood, who likes to sit on his windowsill and pretend to fly. His uncle, Fred (The Munsters) Gwynne, is a drunk. And Bedelia gets demoted at work. This is not the sort of woman who should be asked what kind of day she’s having. The most touching scene occurs when Deakins tells Savage not to give up hope for his dog. In a tide of emotion amazing for such a young actor, Savage asks, “Why should I think positive? You fell on your head, Eric [Underwood] is in the loony bin and Max is going to die.”

The lesson of never giving up is especially hard for Savage to learn because his dad went down without a fight. But in the end the moral isn’t lost to anyone. The film’s willingness to face difficult and complex issues of childhood is diminished by the ending, in which Underwood flies off into the sunset. Still The Boy Who Could Fly soars when it examines some of the lows in life and the resounding value of the courage that can spring from them. (PG)

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