Jack (1996)

11 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Jack” is a movie about a little boy trapped in an older man’s body. However, it’s not through a magical occurrence, like in “Big,” but through a rare medical condition that causes a kid’s cells to accelerate four times the normal rate. At age 10, he looks like a full-grown 40-year-old man. That’s the setup for “Jack” and it’s a nice one that could have resulted in an engaging drama. But as it is, it’s one of the clumsiest lost opportunities I’ve seen. While there are a few cute moments in the movie, there are many moments that are unnecessary, others that are uncomfortable, and worst of all, moments that are uncomfortably unnecessary.

Robin Williams is admittedly an ideal casting choice for the title role of Jack, the little boy in a grown man’s body. I guess that’s because Williams, a comic known for his goofy antics, never seems to have grown up. He’s like a live-action cartoon that only takes time to relax when held in check. It’d make sense that he portray the role in this movie.

The movie begins with Jack’s birth. He’s fully-developed after a two-month pregnancy and it turns out that he has an unusual internal clock. He will age four times as fast as a normal person. Ten years later, Jack has been mostly kept in the house by his loving parents (Diane Lane and Brian Kerwin) as other kids his age stare at his bedroom window, thinking he’s a “freak.” His home-school teacher Mr. Woodruff (Bill Cosby) thinks it’s time for Jack to go to public school, but Mom is scared that Jack will never fit in with the other kids, since he’ll be the only one in the fifth grade that shaves.

They of course decide to give Jack a chance to see how well he adjusts to school. At first, he’s picked on by the other students and has a miserable first day. But the next day, the other kids discover that he’s a good basketball center and can also help them out with other favors, like picking up a “Penthouse” magazine without any sort of ID. “I just don’t shave for a day so I look like I’m 50,” Jack explains. He has a new best friend in a kid named Louie (Adam Zolotin), who invites him join in with his treehouse club.

The low point of the movie is a subplot involving Louie’s trampy mother, played by Fran Drescher. Jack meets her while posing as the school principal as a favor to Louie. In that scene, it’s uncomfortable with the misunderstandings, as Drescher’s character doesn’t know that Williams’ character isn’t a grown man and is yet flirting with him. Robin Williams doesn’t really play the scene as a 10-year-old would, it seems more like lines from failed versions of his standup. And Fran Drescher is as irritating as you imagine she’d be outside of TV. That’s not the end of her character, however. There’s an entire sequence that lasts about twenty minutes that features him meeting up with her in a bar where she works as a waitress. There’s more uneasy flirtation going on, more misunderstandings, and of course, a bar fight. This sequence doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie. Take it (and Fran Drescher) out of the movie, and you wouldn’t miss a thing.

There’s also a great deal of awkwardness in a scene in which Jack attempts to ask his pretty fifth grade teacher Mrs. Marquez (Jennifer Lopez) to the school dance. How am I supposed to feel during that scene? Am I supposed to laugh, because Jack looks like a grown man when we know he isn’t and he’s asking out his cute school teacher? Is this a dramatic moment? I wasn’t sure of it.

I think the movie might have been more effective if it focused on Jack’s mortality. There are moments when you think they’re going to dig deeper into it (there’s a deep moment in which Jack is asked what he wants to be when he grows up—“Alive”), but there’s never a big dramatic payoff.  When the movie was over, I didn’t feel anything or learn anything. I mainly saw pointless moments and forced comedy with obvious payoffs. It’s like they thought why look more into Jack’s internal clock when there’s a bar fight to commence? Or why go further into the kids’ introduction to “Penthouse” when their treehouse can collapse? And of course, we have Robin Williams in a classroom asked to take a seat in a small wooden desk—let’s break it! Then let’s do it again! See, while they’re thinking that, I’m thinking, “Really? This was directed by the great Francis Ford Coppola?”

Francis Ford Coppola, I imagine, wants to try something new with his films, like every filmmaker should. So, one shouldn’t be necessarily surprised to see his name attached to a director’s credit in “Jack.” However, it’s necessary to surprised to see his name because of how inept the movie is. It has some cute moments (such as when Jack is sharing his Gummi Bears with his teacher, or Jack is hanging out with his friends, and a rare few others) as well as moments of appropriate drama (like that “Alive” moment I mentioned, as well as Mr. Woodruff’s speech about why Jack is so special), but as a whole, “Jack” isn’t what we expect from a great director like Coppola, and doesn’t even come close.

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