The Curious Case of Jack Powell
In "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" we watched a child born old who basically lives life in reverse, yet the idea of age in the movies is not new and in 1996 legendary director Francis Ford Coppola had his own take on aging with "Jack" a story of a child born premature and then who ages 4 times quicker that normal children, a story inspired by a real medical condition called Werner Syndrome although exaggerated for the movie. Not a bad idea for a movie except it's pretty much wasted in "Jack" as it doesn't know whether it wants to be funny or semi-serious. So with "Jack" you get a story which is slightly amusing but then lacks that punch when it gets to the expected more emotional side of things.
After going into labour after just 2 months Karen Powell (Diane Lane - Judge Dredd) gives birth to a seemingly healthy boy she calls Jack (Robin Williams - Nine Months). Except Jack is very special as he suffers from a rare medical condition which means he ages 4 times faster than normal. At the age of 10 but looking like a 40 year old, Karen and her husband Brian (Brian Kerwin) finally succumb to Jack's private tutor's wishes and allows him to attend school with normal kids. Understandably his adult appearance causes problems but slowly he becomes friends with all the children. But with time against him it may be short lived.
The biggest problem with "Jack" is not in fact the storyline because quite frankly it's good and with basically a tale of accelerated aging there is plenty of opportunity to deliver both age related comedy as well as a strong sentimental edge. Except that "Jack" whilst fun is not really funny and whilst it touches on the serious more emotional side of the story it never packs that hugely emotional punch to leave you reeling. It sort of floats almost uncomfortably in between delivering many expected moments of humour as Jack who at 10 looked 40 finally goes to school and so struggles to fit in, then the more dramatic side as such as his mother who tries to protect her less than little boy from the outside world.
What really doesn't help is that it feels like Francis Ford Coppola has got Robin Williams on a tight leash and so his trademark exuberance is for the most curtailed. It just feels like everything is scripted even the gags, so for the majority of the time the humour feels manufactured and worse for being so. That's not to say the humour is all rigid and in there are moments of madcap tom foolery but they are too few and far between to deliver the big laughs that it seems to be striving for, which you have to say is a shame because who is there better than Robin Williams to deliver child like fun in an adults body.
Because of this scripted humour it makes the emotional side of "Jack" feel out of place. When Jack suddenly starts to lose his hair, realising that his days are numbered and inevitably becomes ill none of it has that huge impact. We watch all these things yet it doesn't make you feel anything of emotion, even the ending which in time honoured tradition goes all out to deliver a moralistic message about how time is precious and you need to seize the day fails to hit the message home.
The daftest thing is that the best part of "Jack" is the slightly surreal opening where at a fancy dress party Karen Powell goes into labour despite only being 2 months into her pregnancy. What follows is the funniest part of the movie as we watch the tin man, the wicked witch and another person dressed as a pack of cigarettes enter the hospital and the Tin Man keeps setting off the metal detector. It's brilliantly done and sets the expectations high, shame that it never manages to match those moments.
Whilst Robin Williams does his best, although heavily restrained, the rest of the cast don't fair much better. Jennifer Lopez in one of her earlier movie roles is perfect as the beautiful school teacher whilst Bill Cosby is ideally cast as Jack's private tutor Lawrence Woodruff, except they are both underused characters and end up feeling like 2 dimensional filler. The only performance which did work for me was that of Diane Lane as Jack's protective mother Karen. You really got a sense of her fears for her son yet also the fun she has with him as they played games such as Marco Polo. It's a nice performance which also manages to deliver a little emotion as she has to deal with not only Jack going to school but also when he becomes ill.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Jack" is a good idea for a movie, which attempts to capitalize on the slightly surreal situation of a 10 year looking like a man struggling to fit into school life, it fails to really deliver. It's amusing but is never truly funny, yet the emotional side of the story seems lost, at times forgotten as director Francis Ford Coppola tries to make all the humour work. It's not great but then it's not terrible just never really reaches the heights that the story was capable of.