Look closely at the photo below of director Francis Ford Coppola, because you won’t find any trace in the jerry-built Jack of the master who crafted The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The Rain People. Tucker and even failed experiments (One From the Heart, The Outsiders, Dracula) that nonetheless revealed a personal vision. Robin Williams has the title role in Jack. He’s a fifth-grader with a fictitious disorder that causes him to age at four times the normal rate. He’s 10 but looks 40. It’s a chance to laugh, to cry, to rip off Big with a gooey squirt of Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Williams, to his credit, never winks at the audience or plays down to Jack. It’s odd at first to see this verbal whirlwind slow down his speech and his reactions to locate the heart of a kid who leaves the cocoon provided by his parents (Diane Lane and Brian Kerwin) and tutor (Bill Cosby, oozing condescending warmth) for the chaos of a real school. If only the script, by newcomers James DeMonaco and Gary Nadeau, lived up to the humor and humanity Williams finds in Jack.
But noooooo. The script heads straight for jokes about farts and hard-ons. Treated like a giant freak at school, Jack win over Louis (Adam Zolotin) and his buds by farting for their pleasure, buying nudie magazines for them to ogle in their treehouse and lying for Louis by pretending to be the principal when Louis’ mom (The Nanny‘s ever-nasal, ever-nifty Fran Drescher) visits school. Later, Jack gets turned down for a date by a sexy teacher (Jennifer Lopez), lectured on impotence by a drunk (Michael McKean) and French-kissed by Louis’ clueless mom.
Coppola washes down this smarm with a gushingly sappy ending at Jack’s high school graduation that tells us “life is fleeting.” If you thought Coppola hit bottom with Peggy Sue Got Married and New York Stories, Jack proves there’s always one step further down you can go.