The message of "Jack," as spelled out for all to hear in the climactic scene, is, "None of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting." What, then, is Francis Ford Coppola doing spending a year on this tedious, uneventful fantasy about a boy who ages at four times the normal rate? Surrounded by talent but with very little to do himself, Robin Williams delivers what is probably his first altogether tiresome performance.

The message of “Jack,” as spelled out for all to hear in the climactic scene, is, “None of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.” What, then, is Francis Ford Coppola doing spending a year on this tedious, uneventful fantasy about a boy who ages at four times the normal rate? Surrounded by talent but with very little to do himself, Robin Williams delivers what is probably his first altogether tiresome performance. Disney may be able to promote this into a sizable opening but, as with its hero, longevity is not in the cards.

Something of a companion piece for Coppola to “Peggy Sue Got Married” in the mild, gentle way it deals with a fantastical “what if” situation, new effort has just one thing to say and says it with no sense of surprise or drama. Blandness and lack of daring characterize nearly every minute of the very long two hours, which are marked by a high degree of professionalism at the service of little content.

Initial promise is created by nicely shot costume party and birth scenes, with Karen Powell (Diane Lane), in Wicked Witch getup including red slippers, inexplicably giving birth to a baby boy after just a 10-week pregnancy; through it all, hubby Brian (Brian Kerwin) stands by as a weeping Tin Woodman.

Ten years later, sprig Jack (Williams) is mentally and emotionally his own age but looks 40. Hairy and tall and known to the neighborhood kids as a monster and a freak, Jack has apparently led a cloistered existence all these years in his parents’ rambling Victorian house (which looks a lot like the one in “Peggy Sue”). But now that the folks have decided to send him to school, Jack and the real world are going to have to come to some understanding.

Naturally, his fifth-grade classmates are mean and unaccepting, at least until Jack proves his worth on the basketball court. Jack cements his standing with the boys when, on a visit to their treehouse, he brings them a prize copy of Penthouse and shows that he can out-fart them all.

It’s never explained whether Jack feels adult-like sexual stirrings, but when the big little man is turned down for a date by his teacher (Jennifer Lopez), he suffers some sort of heart seizure. Shortly thereafter, a butterfly dies on his windowsill, so even he understands that his time may be drawing near.

So what does Jack do? He heads out to a nearby nightclub for a little tea and sympathy from dishy Dolores Durante (Fran Drescher), the very available mother of his best friend. Unfortunately, he lands in a brawl rather than the sack, then goes into a funk over his desire to be just like everyone else.

Using lines they must have overheard at Spago or the Friars Club, screenwriters James DeMonaco and Gary Nadeau have Jack’s tutor, played by Bill Cosby, compare his student to a shooting star. Williams then gets to utter the immortal line “I just want to be a regular star,” to which Cosby replies, “Jack, you’ll never be regular. You’re spectacular.”

Jack goes back to school in time to hear himself eulogized as “the perfect grown-up,” meaning he’s adult on the outside but young inside. An epilogue seven years later shows Jack, now a decrepit 68 physically, delivering the valedictory speech at his high school graduation.

In an effective film, this would have been a poignant scene, with Jack’s friends moving on to the rest of their lives while he faces the end of his. As it is, the passage is merely sentimental and perfunctory, with the star’s old-age makeup all too noticeable.

Pic’s highlight by quite a margin is the nightclub scene, sparked by vibrant performances from Drescher and Michael McKean, the latter as a confession-prone stool-sitter who engages Jack in a sex-themed heart-to-heart. Sequence is amusing because it involves Jack’s “passing” physically as an adult, which he does effortlessly, but desperately trying to pass in his behavior as well. This gives Williams a rare opportunity to stretch emotively, and brings to mind the film that might have been, in which a fully grown 10-year-old, urgently aware of how little time he’s got, would desperately try to cram a lifetime of experience into six or seven years. Such a story could have real drama and tragedy as well as high comedy, all elements entirely missing here.

Coppola has brought nothing discernible to the proceedings except his elegant craftsmanship, which does nothing to improve the script. Such contributions as Dean Tavoularis’ production design and John Toll’s lensing, both enhanced by idyllic Northern California locations, are expectedly first-rate, just as the performers are attractive and professional.

Jack

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures presentation of an American Zoetrope/Great Oaks production. Produced by Ricardo Mestres, Fred Fuchs, Francis Ford Coppola. Executive producer, Doug Claybourne. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay, James DeMonaco, Gary Nadeau.

Crew

Camera (Foto-Kem color; Technicolor prints), John Toll; editor, Barry Malkin; music, Michael Kamen; production design, Dean Tavoularis; art direction, Angelo Graham; set design, William Beck; set decoration, Armin Ganz, Barbara Munch; costume design, Aggie Guerard Rodgers; sound (Dolby digital), Agamemnon Andrianos; visual effects supervisor, Gary Gutierrez; assistant directors, L. Dean Jones Jr., Gary Scott Marcus; second unit director, Roman Coppola; casting executive, Fred Roos; casting, Linda Phillips Palo, Rosalie Joseph. Reviewed at Walt Disney Studios, Burbank, July 25, 1996. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 113 min.

With

Jack Powell - Robin Williams
Karen Powell - Diane Lane
Miss Marquez - Jennifer Lopez
Brian Powell - Brian Kerwin
Dolores Durante - Fran Drescher
Lawrence Woodruff - Bill Cosby
Paulie - Michael McKean
Bartender - Don Novello
Dr. Benfante - Allan Rich
Louis Durante - Adam Zolotin
Edward - Todd Bosley
John-John - Seth Smith
George - Mario Yedidia
Johnny Duffer - Jeremy Lelliott
Eric - Rickey D'Shon
Collins Victor - Hugo Hernandez
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