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All right. Snow-dad’s better than no-dad. Let’s go.

Movie

Jack Frost
(1998)

 

Horrifying variant on The Santa Clause, in which no one believes a kid, Charlie (Joseph Cross), when he claims his dad has transformed into a hallmark of Christmas. Horrifying because, while Tim Allen probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a perfect Santa, Michael Keaton definitely does not make a good snowman, even as rendered by ILM and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. There’s also the small detail that Troy Miller, a TV comedy director drafted in at short notice, appears to have zero aptitude for the material. Or movies generally.

I sensed he much preferred shooting the band footage we see at the opening, where Jack Frost (Keaton, and I know, the name’s asking for trouble, isn’t it?) and his Jack Frost Band are on the verge of making it big. Or maybe not, who can tell? Either way, Jack being away from home all the time and missing his kid growing up is beginning to grow thin, and wife Kelly Preston can’t even get her sink fixed. When a Christmas Eve getaway turns into yet another career bid, Jack finally gets wise and heads home to the hearth in the midst of a blizzard, only to buy the big one.

Luckily, he gave his son a “magic” harmonica that Charlie – a whole year later, mind – plays after attempting to fashion a snowman in the image of dad, but which turns out more like George Clooney, if a snowman could be claimed to look like George Clooney, which it could not. Certainly not in this case. So dad comes back for a spell, gets to spend some quality time with junior, sees off a school bully (Taylor Handley), who it turns out is just angry because he too has no dad, and er, gets to see his son play in Henry Rollin’s hockey team, before heading off to heaven, like a snowy Patrick Swayze.

If the snowman looks like Clooney (it doesn’t) that’s because the effects guys were working quite merrily under the assumption Gorgeous George was going to star. Only for Gorgeous George to make a mistake possibly even more frightening than his initial decision to appear, and make Batman and Robin instead.

It’s unclear if Sam Raimi vacated the director’s chair before or after George did, but that one takes some figuring too (I had to check twice this wasn’t the previous year’s horror version of Jack Frost). When Miller came aboard, he had Jeff Cesario rewrite the screenplay (for which Mark Steven Johnson, of lousy Marvel movies Daredevil and Ghost Rider, gets a story credit). Tellingly, it’s Cesario’s only movie credit. Even more tellingly, it seems the movie’s genesis is that one of the producers (Matt Baer) had the rights to Frosty the Snowman, and “inspiration” blossomed from there.

What’s strange is that, pre-Snowman, Keaton is basically playing Bruce Willis, renowned for his band side line, complete with hat and harmonica. Obviously, music is a big thing for Jack, making it the more damning that it’s so dreadfully integrated; it has bad TV writ all over it. There’s also dreadful accompanying intercutting, such as Jack rehearsing and Charlie losing at hockey, but that isn’t even the half of it.

At first, Jack suffers such indignities as having his arm stolen by a dog and being shovelled up by a snow plough, but he soon seems to get the hang of his supernatural status, which includes scaring the bejesus out of Rollins. Until the end, when the season’s on the turn (“Oh man, the Sun is brutal. I am literally melting my ass off”).

Simply nothing connects here. Not the relationships, not the effects, not the message. Even a producer of bad TV movies would nurse serious doubts over its vaguely coherent cutting and even less dramatic (forget about comedic) elements.

It’s a bummer for all involved. Miller somehow did persuade others to finance a couple of movies in its aftermath, but he has mostly remained on TV. Rollins, coming off Heat and Lost Highway, maybe thought Raimi was still calling the shots? Preston had such further indignities to look forward to as Battlefield Earth and The Cat in the Hat. Mark Addy, as Jack’s keyboard player, was unfortunate enough to make this his first Hollywood foray following the success of The Full Monty. Warner Bros – who previously struck gold on Keaton being covered up in Beetlejuice and Batman – shelled out $85m on this turkey. It grossed less than half that. It would be nice if Jack Frost were a noble failure, if you could get behind its sincerity and artistry. Unfortunately, it’s plain awful.

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