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Jack Frost

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Jack Frost

Starring: Michael Keaton, Kelly Preston
Director: Troy Miller
Rated: PG
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genres: Christmas, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Mark Addy, Joseph Cross, Scott Kraft, Eli Marienthal, Henry Rollins, Dweezil Zappa

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

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 some rewards.

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 Frost.

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 scenes.

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

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