Opens: Aug. 2, 1996 | Rated: PG-13
Robin Williams as a 10-year-old? I'm surprised it took so long.
"Jack" is the latest from Hollywood's poster boy for Peter Pan syndrome, and as you might expect Williams is even better at playing 10 than his co-stars who really are 10.
The gimmick is Williams as boy with a medical condition causing him to age four times faster than normal. The method is his energetic body language and facial contortions that completely capture the spirit of a fifth-grader. The story is about how Jack copes with being a gigantic, hairy kid among his pint-sized peers.
It's fairly formula stuff, with Jack being ostracized by his classmates until they recognize his potential as a playground basketball player and subsequently get to know him better.
And for the first hour, director Francis Ford Coppola spins a light-hearted yarn punctuated by Williams' childlike mannerisms (a nervous Jack runs his hands around under his shirt) and clever kiddie dialogue.
"I haven't done homework since the third grade," Jack's best friend tells him.
"Your dog must be really full," he responds.
But with the change of a reel, "Jack" starts taking itself very seriously and collapses under the weight of it's social commentary.
Jack's heartbreak over a doomed crush on his teacher (the adorable Jennifer Lopez) ends with him in the hospital. Apparently his fragile system can't take the stress.
Once he's back home, his mother (Diane Lane) is afraid to let him back out in the cruel world. Jack stays in his room, a little afraid himself until his tutor (Bill Cosby, as always a philosophical father figure) visits for a "living life to it's fullest" speech.
"Jack" really could have done without the frying-pan-to-the-head poignancy that dominates the last 40 minutes of the film, and after a while Williams begins to look like he's begging the Oscar.
It's a pity, because technically "Jack" is an impressive effort.
Coppola uses hand-held cameras in the playground scenes to capture the chaotic innocence of kids at play. Another scene juxtaposes Jack's parents discussing his fate off camera while on the screen he plays, care free, in his back yard.
The attention to detail adds an authenticity that kids would recognize -- Jack is plagued by wedgies and he packs six or seven cookies in his lunch box. It is a thoughtfully planned picture.
But other parts of the story seem obligatory at best. Cosby joins Jack and his friends in a tree house for an unnecessary bonding scene, and Fran Drescher plays the flirty mother of one of Jack's friends, who naturally mistakes him for an adult and comes on to him.
While these scenes are good for a few laughs, they both eventually serve to put more serious spin on the tale that becomes an unrecoverable drag on the heart of the movie.
"Jack" should have been a jovial film with a serious side, not a silly movie that halfway through turns into a drama.
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