Hector and the Search for Happiness: Nerdy star Simon hasn't quite got it Pegged
The Spaced actor's unique comedy talents are sadly wasted in this shallow and schmaltzy tale, says Andrew Johnston.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is the latest attempt to establish Simon Pegg as a leading man away from director Edgar Wright and sidekick Nick Frost. It's essentially a chummy, British take on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Pegg playing the titular schmoe, an unfulfilled, mildly depressed psychiatrist who embarks on a series of round-the-world adventures in a quest to discover the true meaning of happiness.
In the first of the film's fantastical contrivances, we meet Hector's beautiful, refined girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), who is quite happy for him to hop on a plane to China with no indication of when he might return. On board – following some amusing slapstick antics in business class – Hector befriends Stellan Skarsgard's jaded millionaire, who shows the wide-eyed Englishman a good time on the streets of Shanghai.
Sadly, expensive restaurants, VIP nightclubs and glamorous prostitutes aren't cutting it for Hector, so he packs his bags and heads to Africa on a plane that by all accounts has been left over from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
After meeting up with an old friend, he flip-flops between being guest of honour at a local banquet and languishing in a rat-infested jail cell. All the while, Hector makes notes and sketches on the nature of happiness in a notebook, which come to life on the screen.
Despite its obvious good intentions, Hector and the Search for Happiness seems to exist in a world that has been drawn from the headlines of a sensationalist, Right-wing news website. Everyone Hector meets is either a saint or a psychopath, from the beautiful women who inexplicably fall for the pasty, diminutive Englishman within minutes of meeting him to the trigger-happy African militia who brutally bundle him into the back of a van and whisk him off to prison.
It's a good job the African country Hector visits goes unnamed, as any self-respecting tourist board in the continent would have been filing a lawsuit against the filmmakers.
For his part, Pegg throws himself into the role with gusto, proving his usual likeable self. His talent for physical comedy remains undimmed, but Pegg is up against a rambling script and undercooked supporting characters, of which Jean Reno's demented arms dealer is perhaps the most wasted.
The script also relies too heavily on coincidences (there's a very strained bit involving a pen), and the tone is all over the place. British-born director Peter Chelsom (Hear My Song, Funny Bones) can't decide if he's making a broad romantic comedy or an intense drama.
Based on the French novel by Francois Lelord, Chelsom's picture certainly has ambition, and it at least tries to tackle some big issues, but in the end, it's swamped beneath a sea of sugary sentiment.
Hector and the Search for Happiness offers some entertaining moments, but it has all the depth you might expect from a director whose previous effort was Hannah Montana: The Movie.