With Danny Devito playing a widower father who also hosts a TV horrorthon in California during the Sixties, you expect sass to conquer sentiment. But Jack the Bear, adapted from Dan McCall's 1974 novel by Steven Zaillian (Awakenings), is pure marshmallow. Director Marshall Herskovitz, cocreator of TV's whiny thirty-something, presses all the easy buttons.
DeVito's John Leary is trying to raise Jack (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.), 12, and Dylan (Miko Hughes), 3, after the death of his wife, played by the captivating actress-singer Andrea Marcovicci. Leary's a cutup when he's not drowning his sorrows in booze, leaving Jack to play grownup. It's only after Dylan is kidnapped by a crazed neighbor (Gary Sinise) that Leary starts to take charge as a father.
DeVito has a few telling moments that suggest what might have been if the film hadn't turned the Leary house into a trauma center. But Herskovitz applies a ham fist to a story that needs the subtle touch of Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. He's packaged a small film of big emotions without digging nearly deep enough to make us believe them.