Another 25 Days of Christmas #6: Jack Frost (1998)

Michael Keaton’s spirit gets transferred to a snowman in this risible festive drama. 

Who made it?: Troy Miller (Director), Mark Steven Johnson, Steve Bloom, Jonathan Roberts, Jeff Cesario (Writers), Mark Canton, Irving Azoff (Producers), Warner Bros.

Who’s in it?: Michael Keaton, Kelly Preston, Joseph Cross, Mark Addy.

Tagline: “He’s the world’s coolest dad and he’s gonna prove it.”

IMDb rating: 4.9/10.

Not to be confused with the straight-to-video slasher of the same name that preceded it, Jack Frost is an odd amalgam of Frosty the SnowmanGhost and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. However, don’t let the esteemed reputation of these aforementioned movies fool you into believing that this family fantasy is actually any good – on the contrary, Jack Frost is a stiff, aloof snoozer drenched in clichés that isn’t overly funny or heart-warming. Perhaps children with low standards may enjoy the exceedingly limited charms of this flick, but it will test the patience of any mature-age viewer forced into watching it with their offspring.

Struggling middle-aged rock musician Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) loves his wife Gabby (Kelly Preston) and son Charlie (Joseph Cross), but does not spend enough time with them. After years of unprofitable gigs, Jack and his band are at long last on the verge of a career breakthrough, but Jack is forced to cancel his planned family Christmas vacation in order to attend the audition. Jack has second thoughts during the drive to the audition, though, and decides to turn back to go spend Christmas with Gabby and Charlie. Unfortunately, Jack subsequently perishes in a car accident on the way, devastating his family. Fast forward a year, and Charlie is still affected by his father’s passing: he no longer plays with his friends and his grades have plummeted. With Christmas approaching, Jack’s spirit returns in the form of a wisecracking snowman, and he is given one last chance to spend some quality time with his son before he melts.

More than anything else, Jack Frost is hindered by the distinct lack of any substantial plot beyond the basic set-up. Oh sure, there are a few conventional story elements involving bullies and Charlie playing hockey, but they fail to offer satisfying substance to the flick, and are too quickly wrapped up (don’t get me started on the neighbourhood bully…just don’t go there). Thus, the premise is sporadically interrupted by snowball skirmishes (which are admittedly clever, as they’re staged like war movie battles) and stupid chase scenes, but it’s obvious that such set-pieces are mere distractions to pad out the runtime. Jack Frost‘s premise might have worked as a 30-minute short film or a television special, but as a feature it’s low on momentum. Worse, it has barely any worthwhile humour – the dialogue is often worthy of facepalms and cringes.

The script is highly unfair towards the titular Jack. He’s supposed to be one of those stereotypical neglectful fathers we see so often in family movies, but Jack is a fundamentally good dad who shouldn’t have to redeem himself for anything. Life is cruel to Jack, plain and simple, and he’s put in too many impossible positions. After all, he’s a down-on-his-luck musician finally getting his big break, so why should his family begrudge him of this just because it causes him to miss a few events? Shouldn’t they support him? Why not blame the people who are putting Jack in such a position? Why can’t they understand Jack’s perspective? Jack is not being selfish – he’s always kind, respectful and loving to his family. Thus, Jack comes across as a good man, while Charlie seems mean-spirited.

On top of this, since Jack has been dead for a whole year, shouldn’t Charlie have questions to ask his old man? For instance, “What happens when you die?”, “What’s it like being a snowman?”, or “What did death feel like?”. Alas, such queries are thrown by the wayside – the screenwriting committee were more focused on gimmicky action beats in a bid to keep us awake. The film’s most humiliating failing, though, is that it doesn’t pack any sort of emotional punch. The sappy, sentimental climax is ineffective and emotionally bereft, closing the proceedings on the flattest, most artificial note imaginable. Not to mention, Jack looks intrinsically creepy as a snowman. The special effects are serviceable, but there’s no getting around the fact that this snowman looks ready to swallow your soul.

To be fair, the performances are at least respectable enough. It’s clear that Keaton tried to lighten the film with his sublime comic touch (his work in Beetlejuice deserved an Oscar), but the script did him no justice. At least he got off easy, though, since he’s relegated to a vocal role after the first half-hour. The rest of the cast are decent, with Preston and Cross both believable as Jack’s family, and with an amiable Mark Addy playing one of Jack’s friends. Meanwhile, in the only subplot that actually works, Henry Rollins scores the film’s only laughs as a hockey coach who becomes incredibly scared and paranoid after meeting Jack in snowman form.

A slapdash comic fantasy, Jack Frost wanted to be a Spielbergian fairytale that tugs on the heart, but it provides nothing to respond to, and it’s doubtful that it will emotionally affect anyone of any age group. The picture might work for unfussy folks in desperate need of a Christmas flick fit for family consumption, but on the whole it lacks the magic to make it a long-lasting holiday classic. Not even the frequently-reliable Michael Keaton can save Jack Frost from meltdown.

Festive Frolics

Still better than Jingle All the Way

Yuletide Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • George Clooney was originally attached to the project but when he left to do Batman & Robin, ex-Batman Michael Keaton was re-cast into the lead role. This caused no end of trouble for the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop because they had designed their snowman animatronic specifically to Clooney’s facial features and acting style.
  • Sam Raimi was once attached to the film as director and even wrote a draft of the script with his brother Ivan Raimi.

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