Filmographically speaking, the seventh or so of Robin Williams's excuses to act like a child -- the closest in time and in alphabet to Jumanji, though in the second way almost as close, and in phonetics even closer, to Hook -- must command a certain amount of clinical interest. Not enough of it, by the same token, to outweigh exasperation. The excuse this time: he's a medical anomaly who, born fully developed after two months' gestation, ages at the accelerated rate of four years to one, something like a dog. For a long while the movie, if not the viewer, avoids doing the grim calculation of life expectancy, spending its time in recess on the playground rather than studying line four of the multiplication table. When it can be avoided no longer, the consoling eulogies get started well ahead of the gravedigger. To his private tutor (that grandfatherly Pied Piper, that lifelong Jello fancier, Bill Cosby), he's "a shooting star among ordinary stars." To his best buddy, reading aloud a what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up essay, he's "the perfect grownup, because inside he's just like a kid." To himself, delivering his high-school valedictory, he's modestly an example or a lesson or an inspiration to us all. This Spielbergian pablum is of much more marginal a position, and so of much less interest, in the filmography of Francis Ford Coppola than in that of Robin "Peter Pan" Williams. One tries to picture the director of The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, etc., blocking out the breaking-wind scene in the treehouse, pondering the optimal camera angle for the capture of the fart in a coffee tin, coaching the child actor on his response to peeling back the plastic lid and sniffing the contents: "That was fine, son. Just fine. But this time how about rolling your eyes up in your head before closing them? And then don't forget to count to three before you tip over backwards." One tries. One winces. 1996.

Duncan Shepherd

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