WIDE ANGLE

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The Independent Culture
So Robin Williams is about to undergo another infantile regression. After space-child Mork, cartoon Popeye, Toys, Peter Pan and Jumanji, the 44-year-old actor has conceded "it's time to grow up and admit I'm a big furry man". But not, unfortunately, before Jack, a new movie where he plays yet another child- trapped-in-a-man's-body. The first snag with this concept is that, unlike Tom Hanks in Big, Williams is not cute. When he buys girlie magazines, climbs into bed with his parents or dates his teacher, you know you're meant to laugh at the innocent incongruity, but instead, there's an involuntary leeriness, a smiley, pervy priapism that makes your skin crawl.

From his first improvisations on The Richard Pryor Show, Williams has always been more of a stand-up-trapped-in-the-career-of-an-actor. He may have studied drama at Julliard, but uncontrollable egotism, manic charisma and a gift for riff are what Robin Williams is all about. These talents are impeded when he's forced to play anything but himself. The story goes that scriptwriters for Mork and Mindy got so weary of his baroque diversions that they would send down blank pieces of paper inscibed with the legend "Robin Williams does his thing". That's fine, if a little indulgent. What's worse is that as soon as Williams steps away from self-centred comedy, he plunges into soft-centred sentimentality. When he's not shoehorning his super-abundant personality into childish frames, the actor plays naive adults (Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King) who offer a similarly "lovable" unworldliness.

Looking at his career trajectory of motor-mouthed ingratiation, you begin to wonder if Williams really is emotionally retarded, a performer stuck at the obnoxious showing-off stage which is, of course, just a cry for public love and attention. Recent roles such as Mrs Doubtfire seem to prove otherwise, to show that the comic is better than the actor, and that what Williams does best is extended character comedy. Sadly, Jack is a different kind of gag-fest altogether.

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