Jack (1996)

At the beginning of the summer, I listed Jack in my review of Mission: Impossible, as one of the summer films I was really looking forward to. What a disappointment, then, when I saw the finished product. The beginning is cool, with neat-o effects and plenty of interesting business going on, but as soon as Robin Williams comes into the film as Jack instead of the cute little baby, it all falls down.

It seems irresistible, of course. Stick Williams in the role of the little kid who lives in a man's body and just stand back. And it is a wonderful idea. In fact, it's so wonderful that they've already done it six times. First, they called it "Mork and Mindy," and then they called it Hook, and then they called it The Fisher King, and then they called it Toys, then they called it Mrs. Doubtfire, and then they called it Jumanji. And they were all pretty good. So Jack is money in the bank, right?

Right! As far as box office receipts. But instead of saying anything new or significant, or perhaps being just light and entertaining and touching, director Francis Ford Coppola, who admits he only directed the film for the CAISH!, decided to make it a big fart joke. Literally and metaphorically.

The film is full of little Robin Williams MomentsTM, and some are vaguely amusing, interrupted by short bursts of earnest, concerned, idealistic pap, which serves to try to dupe the audience into believing something is happening. Unfortunately, taken as a whole, there's just no "there" there.

The story: poor old Jack ages at four times the normal rate. This is not a real disease, which is made obvious by the fact that the effects it has on Jack's life have not even a nodding acquaintance with the circumstances of real life. Jack is a bright, inquisitive kid, and his tutor, played by Bill Cosby, who can't even get in a good movie even if he waits for one directed by Francis Coppola, recommends to his parents, Diane Lane and Brian Kerwin, that he be introduced to regular school with other kids. Apparently in addition to keeping him out of school, his parents have also kept him locked in the attic or confined on a leash in the backyard, because the neighborhood kids all think he's some kind of monster, even though he's lived on their street for ten years.

School is tough at first but ultimately rewarding for Jack. The kids, getting no explanation for why he's six feet tall and really old-looking, naturally think, "He must have the cooties." They tease him or avoid him, until one smart kid, Louie Durante, played by Adam Zolotin with much skill, figures out that he might be an asset on the basketball court, and befriends him. Everyone else falls immediately into line, cherishing Jack's joie de vivre and ability to buy porn. They go to a treehouse and fart in cans. Oh sweet Lord, the hilarity.

Jack collapses with a heart problem brought on by his disorder, and his mother panics and takes him out of school (?). But then when Jack gets all depressed and grows a beard and all the kids ride by on their skateboards and yell "Can Jack come out and play?" over and over again, his mom decides that to avoid all that unpleasantness, she'll let him go back to school. You might be thinking, this is a plot? Well, no, not in the technical sense of the word, but everyone in the film seems to think it is, so maybe they're right.

There are several weird threads which interrupt this action, ultimately leading nowhere. Louie's mom, played by Fran Drescher, hits on Jack when he pretends to be the principal, and this leads Jack to a bar later where he gets in a fight and gets arrested. Also, Jack gets a crush on his teacher (Jennifer Lopez, absolutely magnificent) and asks her to the school dance, probably the only sorta honest scene in the film. Some of these subplots are surely viable, but Jack can't decide which direction it wants to take. It wants to depict the life of a kid growing up with a disease that makes him an outsider, in a humorous, warm-hearted way, but it just doesn't know how.

Williams's performance is a muddled mishmash of everything he's ever been in, but with farting. You want to laugh when he's onscreen, and the physical sensation which results from not being able to is actually painful.

As an interesting sidenote, you may be interested to know that during the opening and closing credits, Canadian "rocker" Bryan Adams can be distinctly heard singing the improbable lines, "There'll be times/You'll be dancing and s--t." Four-letter words long ago invaded PG films, but perhaps we can draw the line at cheap bubble-gum pop.

To recap, this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the same Francis Ford Coppola who directed the Godfather films, Apocalypse Now, The Outsiders, Peggy Sue Got Married, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and other great or passable films. If I didn't tell you now, you might not be able to figure it out from the film.


Links for Jack

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

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