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Jack

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Some Sexual References)

Running Time: 113 minutes

Starring: Robin Williams, Diane Lane, Jennifer Lopez, Brian Kerwin with Fran Drescher and Bill Cosby

Written by by: James DeMonaco & Gary Nadeau

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $19.99

Features: None

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (10 Scenes)

Released: August 3rd, 2004

 

 

Jack Powell (Robin Williams) looks your everyday forty year-old man, but thanks to a very weird biological defect, he's actually your everyday ten year-old boy. However, worried that other kids would make fun of him due to his condition, Jack's parents have kept him out of school and social situations. As a result, Jack has become isolated and yearns to be with peers his own age (he's actually some kind of myth to the neighborhood kids who know a thing or two about him). At the recommendation of his tutor Mr. Woodruff (Bill Cosby), Jack's parents decide to take a giant leap with their son and send him to the fifth grade. Even though Jack, as sweet as can be, struggles to fit in at first he soon makes a solid group of friends. But Jack has to learn the hard way that there still are some perils when it comes to looking four times your age and whether some things are worth it are not, let alone the ultimate consequences of his rare condition.

The main problem with "Jack" is that it never sets a consistent tone. The movie is pretty much a dramedy (despite it originally being advertised as a comedy), but it's a little hard to tell since the story doesn't always strike high chords when it goes for laughs and tends to reach near-middling dramatic heights. The film's more serious portions are a bit schmaltzy (the film's bittersweet last scene - which I admit I do kind of like since sometimes I am a sucker for schmaltz - is pure manipulation), and at times, a little disturbing and creepy (Jack is an innocent character, but it's still weird to see Fran Drescher hit on him). The film's main issues and conflicts are nothing new and we've all seen them before in some way, nor do they really pack a powerful punch - the story seems pretty content to be drowned in a good load of somber scenes. Still, the film's lack of great drama is surprising, since many (myself included) consider Francis Ford Coppola a master storyteller of dramatic narratives (come on, he did give us "The Godfather" movies).

Not surprising though is the film's mediocre laughs. Coppola isn't known for brilliant comedies (though it is really clichéd at this point to say that having Sofia in "The Godfather Part III" was hilarious), and whether it was in James Demonaco and Gary Nadeau script or how Coppola staged things, this film just isn't as funny as you'd probably expect it to be (or maybe given the type of material, you may think otherwise). Personally, I don't think the comedy in the movie reached its true potential - and it's sad to say that the wacky and hilarious Robin Williams can't save things totally (I'm sure he ad-libbed and did his own things, as there are times when he certainly elevates the film as a whole). The film's laughs are incredibly predictable and like the dramatic portions, they've been done in some form before. There are a few clever moments to make you chuckle, but clearly there are not enough. The film's concept stretches itself out too much (the film definitely drags on at points) to the point where it's all so tired. We get it: it's an old guy who's really a kid, thereby an old guy does things kids do and makes him look totally immature. It's definitely too repetitive.

Coppola, like many respected filmmakers, has had his share of flops (both financially and critically) and many consider "Jack" one of them (let's be fair now - everything can't be successful and even the most brilliant artists can have failures here and there). It's true the film didn't make big bucks at the box office and was panned by critics, but dare I say it, perhaps "Jack" is a little (just a little) underrated? Given its pedigree, perhaps there are those who expected this to be some Oscar-winning smash that was going to change movie history. Well the movie didn't achieve that success, nor was it meant to - "Jack" is simply a film meant to be a decent crowd-pleaser for mass audiences. I still don't think "Jack" is a perfect or really great movie, but I can appreciate its little moments, underlying lessons on the importance of enjoying life and the struggles and anxieties of being out in a new world, especially when you are different. There is a certain sweetness to the movie which Coppola nicely brings across, and I can't fault the movie for having its heart in exactly the right place.

The performances are just right. Williams is perfectly cast as the young Jack, thanks to his never-ending energy and manic personality. Williams, truly a gifted actor, definitely hones in on the child-like personality as you'd expect. His comic waves are endless and certainly knows how to share in on the comedy with the others, but Williams also performs well in the more subdued and sadder scenes. Fran Drescher is pretty enjoyable as the one-note mother of one of Jack's friends, Bill Cosby is pretty sublime and very likable as Jack's tutor and a family friend and Diane Lane (teaming up with Coppola again) is sweet, warm and caring as Jack's mother. And hell, we even have Jennifer Lopez before she was a major superstar as Jack's fifth-grade teacher - who's nice and heartbreaking. I suppose this movie will be a footnote in her career (nothing can overshadow the Ben Affleck relationship - NOTHING!), but hey, at least she got to work with Francis Ford Coppola.

At this point in time, "Jack" is still the same movie to me - it's no better and no worse then it was in 1996. Even if it was scorned a bit when it was released, it seems the film has faded into obscurity a bit (especially when everyone mocks Robin Williams now for other "schmaltz epics" - like the uber-successful "Patch Adams" and the disastrous "Jakob The Liar"). If you didn't like the movie then, chances are good you won't like it now. But if you're in the mood to revisit it or have never seen it before, it's something decent to watch one rainy afternoon. Besides, you wouldn't want to subject yourself to something like "Flubber" or "Rumble Fish," now would you?

 

"Jack" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and overall this is an okay transfer. Oddly enough though, for a DVD only containing a movie and some menus with music cues, I noticed some artifacting here and there. This was surprising to me, and the film isn't terribly long either (it runs a bit under two hours). The overall transfer isn't that sharp, but a bit grainy and definitely soft. Noise and shimmering do run pretty rampant, and the source print wasn't cleaned up at all - speckles, blemishes, dirt pieces and scratches can easily be noticed during the course of the film. On the more positive end though, fleshtones look good as does the color saturation and there's no edge enhancement to speak of. Like the film itself, this transfer is pretty good but nothing too fabulous.

 

An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is provided, and while at times it is pretty lively, it's nothing too special. The late Michael Kamen's zippy and cheesy score and the songs the movie features sound okay through the channels. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear, but the fidelity and overall dynamics were a lot weaker than I expected. There isn't much of a subwoofer to be had with this movie, and surround effects are pretty seldom nor do they do anything - things get going a little when Jack is having some fun with his friends, and things are a bit more gentle at other points (like when Jack is in the bar). But even the opening scene at a Halloween party doesn't make much of a blip. Comedies typically don't have amazing 5.1 tracks, and this DVD certainly puts that rule to use. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital track is included, as is a Spanish Dolby Surround track. English and French subtitles and English closed captions round things off in subtitle department.

 

Since this is a catalog release, there's nothing here other than a preview for other Buena Vista DVDs before the main menu and the option to register your DVD. Come on, couldn't the movie's trailer and EPK be stuck on her?

 

"Jack" is no masterpiece, and while it has flaws, I really don't think it's a terrible movie (though of course, Coppola and Williams have done much better). The DVD is a straightforward catalog release, but given how other studios are charging 5-10 dollars less for movie-only titles, I'm not sure if "Jack" on DVD is a total bargain. Big fans of the movie - who have been awaiting this release - should be content, otherwise, a rental should do.