Release Date: August 9th, 1996 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Francis Ford Coppola Actors: Robin Williams, Diane Lane, Brian Kerwin, Jennifer Lopez, Bill Cosby, Fran Drescher, Adam Zolotin, Todd Bosley, Jurnee Smollett
t a lavish costume party, Brian Powell (Brian Kerwin) and his wife Karen (Diane Lane) suddenly realize she’s about to give birth – even though it’s far too soon for her to be at full term. A healthy baby boy is born, but an infant disorder specialist informs the parents that the child is suffering from some unknown aging syndrome, causing his cells to replicate at an abnormally speedy rate. His internal clock is ticking faster than usual, meaning that at the age of 10, he’ll look like a 40-year-old man. And indeed, young Jack (Robin Williams) soon resembles an ordinary adult, but is homeschooled due to his condition and viewed by neighboring kids as a freak of nature.
Personal tutor Lawrence Woodruff (Bill Cosby) suggests that Jack attend a public school, but Brian and Karen are concerned that he’ll be ostracized and traumatized by cruelly ignorant classmates. Nevertheless, it’s time for him to mingle with the real world, and so he’s sent to Nathanial Hawthorne Elementary School, where Miss Marquez (Jennifer Lopez) and her students welcome him. But, as expected, the kids can’t stop staring at the giant, and even the conscientious educator can’t help but verbally slip up around the awkwardly oversized new addition.
On paper, scripting Robin Williams to act like a child might seem like a spectacular idea. It’s an admittedly interesting premise, with plenty of opportunities for visual laughs (casting one of the hairiest actors around humorously adds to the contrast, though it also makes the whole situation just that much more unbelievable). And with amusing scenes such as Jack jumping into bed with his parents, crushing his tiny school desk, shooting hoops against opponents literally half his size, and posing as the principle to help a friend – and incidentally receiving flirtations from the lusty mom (Fran Drescher) – much of it works. There’s also time for immature jests, including playing in a treehouse, throwing water balloons at girls, scoring Penthouse magazines, and eating disgusting concoctions as a rite of passage. But it’s not all fun and games, dulled to a degree by the unhurried pacing.
Ultimately, like “Big” before it, “Jack” meditates on the complexities of a boy trapped in a man’s body; a confused soul who therefore views the world from a comedically skewed perspective – while also touching upon the more serious themes of maturation and adapting (for both the adults and children), role reversals, making friends, accepting oneself and gaining self esteem, refusing to give up, fitting in (coveting normalcy), and handling rejection. Instead of remaining perpetually lighthearted, the turning point predicament is particularly morbid, treading into the fatalistic territory of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” where the recognition of mortality arrives all too soon for an unprepared protagonist. The inevitable shattering of the façade (concerning Jack’s impression on the oblivious outside world, chiefly with adult acquaintances) also provides continual, nervous anticipation. It stops short of ending on a sour note, but it seems to lose its focus on being a well-balanced dramatic comedy.
– Mike Massie