When Diane Lane goes into labour well before her due date, the doctors are somewhat perplexed and alarmed. It only gets weirder as she gives birth to the title character, who is growing at a much faster rate than normal human beings. The film proper picks up with Robin Williams playing the character as a ten year-old in what looks like the body of a 40 year-old. A really, really hairy 40 year-old. For the past ten years, Jack has been home-schooled by tutor Bill Cosby, but Jack yearns to be with other kids, and his parents (which include dad Brian Kerwin) reluctantly allow him to attend school, to be taught by the enormously sweet Miss Marquez (Jennifer Lopez). Most of the kids are rude or simply weirded out by Jack, but he makes fast friends with one boy (Adam Zolotin), who invites him to play basketball, and eventually the others fall into line and embrace his eccentricities (Like all kids would, right?). But Jack’s experiences being a ‘normal’ kid, after having been sheltered by his well-meaning parents for so long, may be short-term as the realities and complications of his condition come to the fore. Fran Drescher plays Zolotin’s floozy mother, who thinks Jack is the principal, Michael McKean turns up at a bar, and Don Novello plays a bartender at that bar.
Everything about this 1996 film from Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather” trilogy, “The Outsiders”, “The Rainmaker”) seems promising in theory. Then you see the film and it just doesn’t work at all (Even “Benjamin Button” was better, and that film wasn’t much good at all). One of the more disappointing flops of the 90s, this one’s no “World According to Garp”, and struggles to be much of anything to match up to the talented names involved.
Coppola (who I frankly think is completely overrated) apparently wanted to make a kids movie here, and that’s a shame. He’s got the perfect lead in Robin Williams, and a mostly fine supporting cast, but Coppola (who never puts a defining stamp on the thing) and screenwriters James DeMonaco (“The Negotiator”, writer-director of “The Purge”- both much better than this) and Gary Nadeau (who has barely worked in the industry before or since) have taken the most obvious, sappiest and most boring avenues from the film’s intriguing basic starting point. Even taking into account that it pilfers from “Garp” and the vastly superior “Big”, this still should’ve been a lot better and loftier. Williams and Bill Cosby are ideal (the film could’ve been even more awkward without Williams’ innate warmness), Diane Lane and a pre-relevance Jennifer Lopez are incredibly sweet (though Lopez treats her 10 year-old students like they are 5 year-olds. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong!) but Coppola wrongheadedly pitches this as a kids movie. It should’ve been a comedy, and not really a family one. As such, it’s a bore, more “The Sandlot Kids” than “Garp” or “Big” in execution. Coppola’s vision and the script are thoroughly underwhelming.
Williams overdoes the little boy voice at times, but he can’t really be faulted here. He’s perfectly cast and nails the character’s vulnerability and insecurity as a picked-on kid who is a bit ‘special’ (and really hairy). But anyone who has seen “Toys”, “Death to Smoochy”, or “Jumanji” (another film that should’ve been terrific but sucked) knows that Williams was never a miracle worker.
I mentioned Coppola’s vision earlier, but truth be told, the only thing that tells you that this is a Coppola film is the (perfect) casting of Diane Lane. Otherwise this is subpar, nondescript, formula filmmaking that any Happy Meal directorial hack could’ve helmed. And don’t even get me started on that far too whimsical opening childbirth scene where Diane Lane is dressed as Morticia Addams and Brian Kerwin (who is the one poor casting choice. He’s a boring nobody who never was) dressed as The Tin Man. That belonged in a whole other film (Notice I said other and not nother? That’s because only idiots say ‘nother’. It’s not a word, people!). It doesn’t even work as a kids movie. We get farting, puking, porno mags, impersonating the principal, overgrown man-children breaking chairs, etc. Is this the best they could come up with? If it had to be a kids movie, Bill Cosby himself could tell a more interesting story than this on his own. Then again, Cosby’s the guy who willingly starred in “Ghost Dad”, an even worse film than this. The kids are boring, and the concept of a 10 year-old in a 40 year-old man’s body is close enough to Michael Jackson territory that it ends up incredibly awkward. Why don’t the parents complain about Jack? Stranger Danger, anyone? Because it’s pitched as a kids movie, we’re just expected to ignore that, I guess.
The only plot development in the film that Coppola kinda succeeds with is Jack’s growing attraction to his teacher, which is probably the least juvenile aspect of the film, too. Lopez plays this angle really well, with great sensitivity. She also shows a lot of charisma that would not present itself much in the following decades. I guess she was still Jenny from the block at the time. Anyway, the scene stands out because the rest is such a subpar kids movie. This one has an identity crisis up to ying-yang, folks. The central character’s situation can’t be properly dealt with under kiddie movie restraints, and Coppola tries to submit the thing to his will and make a kiddie movie out of it, or else. Coppola should’ve either gone for adult drama, or a straight-up comedy. By doggedly pursuing a kiddie demographic, Coppola makes everything awkward and unsatisfying. It’s not “Toys”, but it is crap.