'Hector and the Search for Happiness' (R)

A sweet-natured film that flounders a bit before reaching its satisfying destination, Hector and the Search for Happiness is about precisely what its title indicates. Hector (Simon Pegg), a London psychiatrist, has a successful practice, a lovely apartment and a charming and successful girlfriend named Clara (Rosamund Pike), and yet he’s dissatisfied with his life. So off he goes, on a trip that encompasses China, Africa and Los Angeles, in search of what it is that makes us happy.

Director Peter Chelsom strikes a whimsical tone, complete with wry voice-over narration, at the beginning, and it’s difficult to sustain this for a nearly two-hour story, particularly one which steps into some very dark waters during the Africa sojourn. (Prison and torture don’t seem to fit nicely with the film’s warmhearted ditheriness, and Hector nearly becomes derailed.) But though many of the characters seem created to serve as metaphors, Pegg’s likable presence keeps us going — as does the film’s occasional creative forays into animation, in the manner of Hector’s beloved Tin Tin comics.

And what tips the film into memorable territory are its words of wisdom, many of which ring true. Happiness, we’re told, sometimes lies in “not knowing the whole story;” the road to happiness is not found simply by avoiding unhappiness. Most notable, spoken late in the film by a relaxed Christopher Plummer, is the film’s simple, irresistible theme: “We should concern ourselves not so much with the pursuit of happiness, but with the happiness of the pursuit.”

Cast: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno, Christopher Plummer.

Director: Peter Chelsom.

Screenwriters: Maria von Heland, Chelsom and Tinker Lindsay.

A Relativity Media release. Running time: 114 minutes. Vulgar language, brief nudity. Playing at area theaters.

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