I have a quick question for you, dear movie-going reader friend. Why oh why did you click this link? This is a review for Hector and the Search for Happiness. Are you actually curious about this movie? Are you wondering if, based on that trailer you probably saw, it’s anything more than a less imaginative and more racist The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Do you actually think there could be anything about this movie worth reviewing? Is that why you’re here? Because if so, I am surprised by and envious of your optimism, and I hate to crush it, even a little. Actually, you know what? No. I’m sorry. That unfavorable comparison to Walter Mitty is totally unfair. Because while this movie does feature the occasional animated scene of fantasy, it is so lacking in anything original or even slightly magical that any such comparisons should be considered a crime against Danny Kaye.
Our eponymous Hector is a psychiatrist stuck in a rut. He’s bored with himself, his patients, his girlfriend Clara (played by Rosamund Pike, who, with a focus, a lightness, and actual clear intentions, is one of the few not entirely terrible parts of the movie), and therefore decides to run away to try to find out what makes people happy. So he grabs a notebook and heads China. Why China? I dunno, no time for reasons, let’s go to China! On his way to trying to find happiness in one of the most repressive countries in the world, he meets Stellan Skarsgård, who takes him to an exclusive nightclub to dance and have sexy times with pretty prostitutes. As a total, genuine shock to Hector, this doesn’t bring him his desired enlightenment. So he heads off to Africa. I honestly don’t even know if they name a country; it may just be “Africa.” Yes, he explored happiness through wealth, now he’ll explore it through poverty. And despite creating a background of literal dancing, singing ethnic diversity, just like Skarsgård in China, the only “African” who gets his point of view heard is Jean Reno. This, friends, is what we can safely refer to as “racist bullshittery.”
When Africa doesn’t give him what he’s looking for (despite an ease of communication based in everyone speaking perfect, lightly accented colloquial English), he heads to Los Angeles to try to bang The One Who Got Away (Toni Collette). You know, for happiness. I would tell you about the decent telling-off Collette gives Hector, but I’ve already spent way too much time on a plot that is not worth describing. Whatever you think is going to happen in this movie is exactly what happens. But it’s also so much worse than that. Yes, there are trite life lessons that make Eat, Pray, Love look like Tao Te Ching. But it also— well, it’s hard to say it “goes off the rails” when it is actually just a perpetual, two-hour train wreck. There is some full-bananas insanity here. Despite being a psychiatrist, en route to L.A. Hector uses his doctor powers to save a woman from a potentially exploding brain tumor. He also gets thrown in an African warlord’s prison for a while, because the writer apparently didn’t learn from Bridget Jones’ Diary 2 that that is not an appropriate setting for a comedy. After getting insight from yet another white dude— this time Christopher Plummer— he gets put into a brain machine that looks like this:
This movie was so aggressively bad that it should only be viewed as an alternative for the aforementioned African prison. And if you’re still thinking you want to see this because you’re SUCH a Simon Pegg fan, rest assured that he is entirely unrecognizable. He lacks any energy, charisma, or humor by which we may know him. This is probably due in equal parts to him realizing this as an unsalvageable disaster and patiently waiting out his pay day, and the lazy, timid direction that barely gives us a decent look at Pegg for most of the film. Why writer/director Peter Chelsom (whose last directing credit, it should be noted, was Hannah Montana: The Movie) even bothered to cast someone as talented as Simon Pegg is a mystery, since he seems so hesitant to let the camera rest on him. I can only hope that Pegg got a decent-sized boat out of the deal, and that not too many of you waste your time or money on this one. That, I think, is the best we could possibly hope for in regard to this movie.
Vivian Kane has found a renewed love of life, because for the rest of her time on Earth, she never again has to be watching this movie.