I went into "Jack Frost" expecting the worst. The trailers for the
fantasy, about a father who returns from the dead as a snowman, looked
absolutely awful, promising a mawkish comedy with exceptionally cheesy
special effects. The actual movie certainly lived up (or down, if you
wish) to its ads, but I was moved anyway. Beneath the many mistakes in
"Jack Frost" lies a sweet story with a kind spirit and a nice message. If
you're willing to suffer through the bad stuff, the film actually offers
Michael Keaton stars as Jack Frost, a musician in a small Colorado town
who wants to be a good father and husband, but keeps screwing up,
repeatedly missing important family events while trying to hit it big in
show business. His wife Gabby (Kelly Preston) and son Charlie (Joseph
Cross) recognize his good intentions, but are often hurt by his actions.
While traveling towards a Christmas Day audition, he has an epiphany and
turns around, heading for home to be with his loved ones. Then a
snowstorm hits and Jack dies in a car wreck.
A year later, young Charlie is still a mess. He's quit the school hockey
team and trudges through his days, sad and uncommunicative. Then it
happens. Charlie wistfully blows on a harmonica that his father told him
was magic ("No matter where I am, I'll hear it") and that night, the
snowman in the front yard comes to life, inhabited by the soul of Jack
The results are predictable. Fear and disbelief, followed by wacky madcap
adventures leading to a sentimental finale. The film is poorly executed,
both visually and structurally. The machine-made snow throughout the town
looks almost as phony as the instant mashed potato flakes often used as a
snow substitute in movies. The snowman itself is unconvincing, resembling
white felt more than snow, and the computer animation is very hokey.
The script is as bad as the special effects. Kelly Preston and Mark Addy
(playing a former band-mate and family friend) are given passive,
woefully underwritten characters with little to do. Henry Rollins oozes
testosterone as Charlie's coach, who spots the snowman in action and
becomes the laughing stock of the town when he tells what he saw.
Rollins' blustery character seems bound for a major comic payoff, but the
punchline never comes.
In fact, a lot of punchlines never come. For a comedy, there aren't
nearly enough gags in "Jack Frost." The physical humor is more frenetic
than funny, with poor camera angles undercutting the laughs. The jokes
are standard-issue kid's stuff; one-liners about butts, a kid getting
whacked in the testicles, etc.
On the sentimental side, the film strains mightily for a Frank Capra feel.
Aside from the off-screen car wreck and the aforementioned shot to the
crotch, unusually spirited snowball fights are about as violent as the
story gets. Every character is essentially a decent human being, a nice
change from the parade of creeps who populate so many movies. Even the
school bully eventually comes around, in one of the tale's most agreeable
While the tearjerker elements of "Jack Frost" sometimes become
excessively gooey, particularly in one cloying scene that rips-off the
climax of "Ghost," the film has moments that are honestly touching.
Despite the ludicrous spectacle of a boy hugging a snowman, the
relationship between Jack and Charlie feels genuine. I enjoyed the
heartfelt father and son bonding, and thought the gentle lessons on
dealing with the death of a loved one were poignant. To be fair, I should
mention that I recently lost one of my parents, which may render me more
susceptible to overt sentiment than usual.
"Jack Frost" is a sloppy, manipulative film, just another holiday trifle.
But credit should be given to the filmmakers. Underneath the bells and
whistles, and despite flubbing many opportunities, they have crafted a
Christmas movie in the cynical late '90s that actually has a heart.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott