There’s a lot for parents to like in “Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang,” but this dark, edgy kids’ fantasy may not have enough light action to keep the grade-schoolers amused. Sophisticated and largely intriguing, modern-day fairy tale centers on a 6-year-old boy’s nightmare of life in a prison for kids. Helmer George Bloomfield and scripter Tim Burns have crafted a haunting, funny take on kids’ anxieties. But the acting is uneven, the pacing not fast enough for young attention spans, and the material may simply be too downbeat to click with the under-10 set. Thanks to the popularity of the book by Montreal author Mordecai Richler (“The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” “Joshua Then and Now”), pic will likely do best in Canada, where it was launched Oct. 8. “Jacob” will probably be more of a tube item internationally.
Jacob (Max Morrow) has earned the moniker Jacob Two Two because he says almost everything twice for the simple reason that no one listens to him the first time round. His real problems begin when his father sends him to the corner store to pick up “two firm red tomatoes.”
When he repeats his order a couple of times, the store owner (Maury Chaykin) starts harassing him and threatens to have him arrested for insulting a grown-up. When the cops show up, Jacob takes off, dashes into the basement of the store and promptly bumps into something in the dark and knocks himself out.
Rest of the pic is a lengthy dream sequence inspired by Jacob’s traumatic store visit. He is now being defended by a wacky lawyer (Chaykin again) who fails to make much of an impression on a rapping judge (Ice-T). Without so much as a trial, Jacob is sentenced to two years, two months, two days, two minutes and five seconds on Slimers’ Island, home to a horrific prison for smallfry.
The odd facility is run by the Hooded Fang (Gary Busey), a bizarre creature who looks like a cross between a World Wrestling Federation escapee and a glitter-era rock star. He is aided by his two henchmen, goofy Mr. Fish (Mark McKinney) and Miss Fowl (Miranda Richardson), who has a major crush on her hooded boss.
Jacob soon finds himself on the wrong side of the Hooded Fang — mostly because he just doesn’t act scared enough when the Fang goes on his frequent ranting rampages. The danger factor on the spooky island is heightened by the Slimers themselves, tall, greasy creatures apt to cover misbehaving kids in gooey slime.
The opening creates the right mood, with the easygoing story laced with an undercurrent of anxiety centered on Jacob’s tentative, nervous personality. But once action shifts to the dream world of Slimers’ Island, the tone becomes much darker, and there’s little to soften the fairly twisted main story. There’s plenty of humor throughout, but much of it has a satirical edge that will have parents chuckling more than kids. The yarn ends on a rousing, upbeat note, but it takes a long, noirish trip before good triumphs over evil, clearly not the easiest formula for attracting young auds.
The songs, penned by screenwriter Burns, are often funny and quite catchy. Standout numbers include Ice-T’s grooving courtroom rap and Mr. Fish’s hilariously camp duet with a toe-tapping Slimer.
Some thesps fare better than others. McKinney delivers the perfect blend of nasty and funny, 7-year-old Morrow has no shortage of natural charm as Jacob, and Richardson is suitably high-strung as Miss Fowl. Busey certainly turns the Hooded Fang into one mean character; in fact, the actor’s nastiness feels too edgy for the material. Chaykin overplays his two small roles. Main set on Slimers’ Island has a memorably Gothic look, which is spooky without being too grim.
The material was filmed before, in a 1977 pic directed by Theodore J. Flicker and starring Stephen Rosenberg and Alex Karras.