Coppola's direction makes 'Jack' a dull boy

August 09, 1996|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

Put "Jack" back in the box.

Robin Williams, the ultimate clown, is unfunny and overbearing in this irritating fable about a boy who ages four times faster than his peers and thus looks like a 40-year-old when he's just 10.

Director Francis Ford Coppola has undisputed classics to his credit, among them "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now." Rack "Jack" up with that dreadful short film about a little girl that Coppola plopped in the middle of "New York Stories."

"Jack" begins with promise, when Jack's mom (Diane Lane) goes into very early labor during a costume party and she and her husband have to rush to the hospital dressed as a witch and the Tin Man. Just try sending a Tin Man through a metal detector! But as soon as Jack is born, his parents lose all personality. Completely humorless, even on the rare occasions when dad (Brian Kerwin) makes jokes, they sniffle and whine throughout the film.

Jack, meanwhile, grows very quickly into a 10-year-old. Shut off from his peers by his overprotective mother, he's tutored by Mr. Woodruff (Bill Cosby). Robin Williams. Bill Cosby. No laughs. What's wrong with this picture? That these two extremely funny men can get into the same frame without eliciting a single giggle is a testament to the leaden direction of Coppola and, even worse, the derivative and cloying script by James DeMonaco and Gary Nadeau.

Even when Jack is allowed to go to school, Williams simply doesn't click -- not because Jack is a misfit, but because we never buy the idea that Williams is playing a kid. The story gets even more grim when Fran Drescher starts hitting on Williams and he ends up in a bar talking about sleazy sex with Michael McKean. Williams cowers, Williams stumbles, always wide-eyed but never credible.

Instead of unchaining Williams' zany humor, the movie tries to capture the child-in-a-man's-world charm of "Big" (a much better film) while going for "It's a Wonderful Life" sentimentality, helped along by overused metaphors (Jack as a shooting star, Jack as a butterfly). It's a lethal combination.

Instead of loving Robin Williams' character by the end -- as his best friend's essay and Jack's trite, self-congratulatory graduation speech egg us on -- we can't muster more than pity. One starts wondering: Is it child abuse to smack Robin Williams when he's playing a 10-year-old?

"Jack"

Starring Robin Williams and Diane Lane

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Rated PG-13 (language, adult themes)

Sun score *

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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