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'Jack Frost' Leaves You Cold

By Jane Horwtiz
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, December 11, 1998

  Movie Critic

Jack Frost
Kelly Preston is married to Michael Keaton, who comes back to life as a snowman.
(Warner Bros.)

Troy Miller
Michael Keaton;
Kelly Preston;
Mark Addy;
Joseph Cross;
Henry Rollins;
Dweezil Zappa;
Ahmet Zappa;
Trevor Rabin
Running Time:
1 hour, 36 minutes
Occasional crude language and very mild sexual innuendo, as well as themes of grief and loss
A formulaic and charmless fantasy about a boy whose dead dad comes back as a snowman, "Jack Frost" reveals Hollywood at its movie-by-committee worst. Crass, dumbed down and stickily sentimental, it's a flavorless confection that clearly had too many chefs tugging at the taffy.

Michael Keaton plays the rakish Jack Frost of the title, a middle-aged rock musician who, implausibly, seems on the verge of a career breakthrough after years of unprofitable gigs. His wife, Gabby (Kelly Preston) and 12-year-old son Charlie (Joseph Cross) love him and support his career, but would rather he spent less time touring and more time at home. He's always missing Charlie's ice hockey games and breaking other promises.

One night near Christmas in their snow-covered Colorado town, Charlie and Jack build a snowman and dress him in dad's hat and scarf. Later, in an effort to make up for his absences, Jack gives Charlie his favorite harmonica. He bought it, he tells him, the night the lad was born. Whenever you blow on it, he tells Charlie, I'll hear you. (That's the gimmick.)

When Jack and his band are offered a chance to audition for a big record producer on Christmas Day, he feels he can't pass it up. But halfway there, he decides to turn back and spend the holiday with his family. Then he skids off the road in a blizzard, to oblivion. We pick up the lives of Charlie and his mom a year later. The boy is still sad, friendless, and harassed by the school bully. One night he builds a snowman and dresses it in dad's duds. Then he picks up the harmonica and gives it a blow. There's a swirl of snow and POUF! the snowman talks and moves, and it's dad's voice inside there. He's come back to comfort Charlie.

The live snowman turns out to be a singularly unappealing creature. A blend of animatronic puppetry and computer-enhanced movement, he has a face like a padded mask and glides around on his bottom section in a way that's just plain weird and may scare little kids. (All the grown-up talk and romantic scenes in the film's first half will bore them.)

Jack's reincarnated snowman self is visible to anyone who happens by, not just to Charlie. He helps his son win a snowball fight and snowboard chase. He scares the local hockey coach half to death. Except for the coach, characters register only the slightest surprise. Perhaps that's because the movie is already so unmagical.

Finally, of course, Jack begins to melt. Charlie moves him to a mountain cabin where it's colder, but that just prolongs the goodbyes. It's time for Charlie and his mom, who shows up just in time, to get on with their lives. And our eyes remain as dry as plastic snow.

Preston and Cross are fine as mother and son, but even Keaton can't make Jack's lame patter amusing. (As he reconnects his snowman sections together after a chase he mutters, "I've had to put myself together after some rough nights, but this is ridiculous." Witty, eh?) Also wasted is Britisher Mark Addy (the sad roly-poly one from "The Full Monty") as Jack's best friend. Fans may also recognize Henry Rollins (of the Rollins Band) Dweezil Zappa, Ahmet Zappa and Trevor Rabin (formerly of Yes) in cameos.

New director Troy Miller, with his TV producing and directing credits, doesn't add much subtlety or feeling to the mix, and four screenwriters (Mark Steven Johnson, Steve Bloom, Jonathan Roberts and Jeff Cesario) couldn't save "Jack Frost" from meltdown.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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