Picks and Pans Review: Jack the Bear

updated 04/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Danny DeVito, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Despite its fairy-tale-sounding title, this movie, in which DeVito plays a TV horror-movie-show host left to raise two sons alone after his wife dies in a car crash, is one long, despairing journey into the heart of darkness—without a paddle. Which is too bad, because deep inside Jack the Bear lurks the beginnings of an affecting movie about facing loss, accepting responsibility and getting on with life.

The movie that might have been is buried beneath this one, which has a plot so melodramatic and herky-jerky that the characters almost get lost amid its twists. But even the dumbest viewer will be able to grasp the film's Deeper Meaning about inescapable family ties, because the script constantly has characters declaiming them, as when DeVito rhetorically asks his 12-year-old son (Steinmiller Jr.), "Who's the father and who's the son here?"

DeVito gets no help from director Marshall Herskovitz, the co-creator of TV's thirty something, who is making his feature film debut. Seinfeld's Louis-Dreyfus, cast as a coworker of DeVito's, is given nothing more to do than smile benevolently or frown disapprovingly at DeVito's antics. (PG-13)

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