"Hector and the Search for Happiness" is like a dozen greeting cards come to cinematic life.
Lines of animated Hallmark text even appear on-screen from time to time. "Happiness is answering your calling." "Happiness is being loved for who you are." "Happiness is going to a feel-good movie, and getting no more or less than what you paid for."
We made that last one up, but it sums up this romantic comedy adventure. Throughout the movie, it's obvious where the narrative is going - only the lead character seems to be in the dark about the solution to his problems. The entire film is an attempt to add significance to an adventure that would have been easier to fix by staying at home.
The journey has some broadly enjoyable moments, thanks to a game performance from Simon Pegg, channeling two parts Hugh Grant and one part Rowan Atkinson. Pegg and director Peter Chelsom seem to be aiming squarely for "Love Actually" defenders - moviegoers who prefer their cinema British and escapist, where the soaring moments drown out any hint of subtlety.
Pegg is Hector, a stuck-in-a-rut psychiatrist who hits his passive breaking point and bolts from his seemingly perfect girlfriend. His travel-the-world midlife-crisis bucket list includes visits to China, Africa and Los Angeles, meeting stand-ins for angels along the way. (Stereotypes all, from the hooker with a heart of gold to the drug kingpin with a heart of gold. Everyone has a heart of gold in "Hector and the Search for Happiness.")
Hector's companions provide lessons in happiness that are ultimately worthless, because Hector's happiness clearly lies within himself and the ability to appreciate what he already has. Which is all but impossible when you're having tea with some monks on a mountaintop somewhere in China or Tibet. But they're funny monks! With a satellite dish so Hector can Skype his girlfriend and create another misunderstanding!
Yes, just like an episode of "Three's Company," the conflict in "Hector" is fueled by misunderstandings.
If you're even a bit cynical, this film never has a chance. But if you can look past the cultural cliches and predictable coincidences, there are small pleasures to be had. The script yields some laughs in the beginning, introducing Hector's needy patients. Rosamund Pike is appropriately fetching as Hector's girlfriend, Clara.
And once Hector hits the road, there's a Muppet movie of big stars in fun cameos, including Jean Reno as Diego the kingpin and Stellan Skarsgard as a rich businessman. Our hero writes down illustrated thoughts in a notebook, and they occasionally come to cartoon life.
The happy ending is rarely in doubt, and frustration builds watching Hector bumble around the world - the only person on the planet who can't see the answer.
"Avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness," Hector writes in his book. But avoiding this movie might be a good start.