King Jack

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
King Jack Movie Poster Image
Dark coming-of-age movie has intense, sadistic bullying.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. While Jack stands up (literally) to a vicious and sadistic bully, it doesn't feel like a positive takeaway. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Jack is a likable and sympathetic teen character who is enduring tremendous difficulties as he's surrounded by vicious bullies, mean girls, and a jerk older brother, he also curses frequently, drinks, smokes, and leaves his young cousin to be brutally tormented by the neighborhood bullies. Teen characters smoke, drink, sext, and are physically and verbally abusive.

Violence

Vicious bullying. A teen boy is kicked and punched until he is nearly knocked unconscious, suffering a mild concussion and a broken rib. He is held down and sprayed in the face with black spray paint and is later knocked to the ground by these same bullies. Also, these bullies tie up a 10-year-old boy in their backyard and shoot him in the chest with a paintball gun; before this, the leader of the bullies gives the young boy a lit M-80 firecracker and tells him that if he doesn't throw it before the bully slowly counts to 10, they'll let him go. Teen boys are attacked by a man wielding a tire iron. A teen boy is hit in the head by a baseball bat swung by another boy. 

Sex

A teen boy is nearly caught masturbating in the shower. A teen boy and his tween cousin play truth or dare with two teen girls: A girl is dared to lift up her shirt and show her breasts and does so; the tween boy is told to drop his pants and show his penis and does so. At the request of a girl he has a crush on, a teen boy texts her a picture of his penis; he is later mocked by her friends who tell him his penis is small. A teen boy and girl start kissing in bed, removing clothes, almost have sex. 

Language

A teen boy spray-paints "c--t" on a bully's garage door. Frequent profanity, including ample use of "f--k" and its various permutations, "fag," "faggot," "bulls--t," "a--hole," "d--k," "dumba--." The middle-finger gesture. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke cigarettes, drink beer, down shots of vodka. A scene of a house party in which teens binge-drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that King Jack is a 2015 coming-of-age movie about a teen boy in a crumbling blue-collar neighborhood trying to deal with a vicious and sadistic bully, a jerk of an older brother, girl troubles, and a younger cousin sent to live with them after his aunt is hospitalized due to mental illness. There is frequent and extremely vicious bullying, the likes of which are unprecedented. The lead character is kicked and beaten to within an inch of his life and left with a concussion and a broken rib. These same bullies also spray-paint Jack in the face, knock him to the ground and hold his face in concrete, pull a knife on him, cut his face after sneaking into the room where he thinks he's about to have sex with a girl, and tie a 10-year-old boy to a lawn chair while shooting him in the chest with a paintball gun. Also, the lead bully has the 10-year-old hold a lit M-80 firecracker and tells him that if he holds it for a long count to 10, they will let him go. These bullies are attacked by an older man wielding a tire iron. One of the bullies is knocked in the head by a boy swinging a baseball bat. There is sexting -- Jack sends a picture of his penis to a girl he has a crush on. Expect frequent verbal abuse: Mean girls tell Jack he has a small penis, Jack's older brother constantly berates him (years before, he bestowed upon Jack the nickname "Scab," which is still what he's called by almost everyone around him). While there are implied consequences for the bullying, as it becomes obvious that the bully loses face when he takes things too far, the movie is too wrapped up in its own unflinching take on realism to have any clear-cut positive messages on the subject. Teens engage in iffy behaviors: smoking, drinking, showing their private parts during truth or dare, forcing vodka shots on each other. In fact, in the opening scene, Jack spray-paints "c--t" on the bully's garage door. There is no sugarcoating in this movie, whose takeaway could be construed as: Stand up to bullies at all costs, and don't rat to the police. 

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What's the story?

Jack (Charlie Plummer) is a 15-year-old boy in a blue-collar neighborhood in New York state. His older brother is a jerk, girls mock him after he texts a picture of his penis to a girl he likes, and, worst of all, he is at the top of the hit list of a vicious bully named Shane. As if that wasn't enough, he now has to hang out with his 10-year-old cousin who's sent to live with them due to his mother being hospitalized for mental illness. A bond slowly develops between Jack and his cousin Ben as they try to dodge the bully, then play truth or dare with two girls in the neighborhood, but that bond is severed when the bullies, in hot pursuit after Jack hits Shane in the head with a rock, take Ben prisoner and tie him up in Shane's backyard while Shane and his toadie friends shoot Ben in the chest with a paintball gun. Rescued by Jack's older brother, Ben refuses to have anything to do with Jack, despite Jack's apologies. Things come to a head when Jack sneaks out to go to a party hosted by the girl he has a crush on, and the girl leads him into a trap in which Jack must find a way to stand up to Shane and show the people around him that he's much better than they think he is, no matter the consequences. 

Is it any good?

While some coming-of-age movies are nostalgic remembrances of long-gone summers of good-time oldies on the radio and sweet first kisses, KING JACK is the complete opposite of that. It's an unflinching and unsentimental portrait of teens growing up in dead-end America, drinking, smoking, sexting, and getting beaten to a pulp by an incredibly vicious bully. One can't help but root for Jack, and while it's easy enough to get wrapped up in what's happening, there is always the lingering feeling that the movie really, really wants to show you how "real" it is, all the time, in every scene. King Jack wants to make absolutely certain you realize that teens face peer pressure and verbal taunting, that they drink, smoke, curse, and show each other their private parts during rounds of truth or dare, and that there are some very sadistic bullies out there in the world. 

Which brings us to the bully. This bully -- Shane -- is the cruelest of the cruel, subjecting Jack and his cousin Ben to the nastiest of mental and physical tortures. He's so unrelentingly cruel, in fact, that he starts to walk that thin line between a bully drawn from real-life experience and an over-the-top bad guy from any movie where the villain shows no restraint whatsoever to get what he wants. This almost impossibly evil character takes away from some fine acting and the otherwise engaging story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about depictions of teenagers in movies and where King Jack fits in these depictions. Do you think this movie accurately conveys what teenagers contend with and how they interact with others? Why, or why not? How are teenagers commonly portrayed in movies, not only in the present but also in previous decades? 

  • How is this a coming-of-age movie? What are the elements of the genre?

  • How does this movie address bullying? Do you think the movie realistically conveyed the mindset and behaviors of bullies, or did it seem exaggerated? Why, or why not? 

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