12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #4: ‘Jack Frost’ (1998)

Jack Frost 1998 Michael Keaton review

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?

With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

I railed on Michael Cooney’s DTV send-up Jack Frost for failing to find humor in an ostensibly tongue-in-cheek premise. Released just a year later, and under the same title, Troy Miller’s Jack Frost goes for supreme holiday sentimentality, re-birthing Michael Keaton into a guardian snowman with the straight faced earnestness of It’s a Wonderful Life.

1998 was an interesting year in Keaton’s career. After reprising his Jackie Brown role as jumpy, dogged agent Ray Nicolette in Out of Sight, Keaton starred in the action thriller Desperate Measures. As a convicted felon, Keaton’s also the only man whose bone marrow can save the life of cop Andy Garcia’s son. Now a mostly forgotten thriller, Desperate Measures’ extreme upping of stakes seems cute compared to Keaton’s final role in 1998. Keaton plays a struggling Denver musician, whose “Jack Frost Band” is criminally overlooked — if one is to believe the townsfolk banter and local radio jockeys. Their bluesy rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” over Jack Frost‘s opening credits doesn’t provide much evidence of the band’s “surefire” potential, but Keaton’s generally reliable intensity imbues Jack’s career path with passion and dedication.

For artists finding their big break, playing gigs and mixing demos are staples of an often unrewarding job, but Jack’s wife (Kelly Preston) and son Charlie (Joseph Cross) treat his day-to-day roughing as a mid-life crisis, not a long gestating dream. To them, Jack’s more absentee father than road-tripping musician. Sure, Jack forgets his son’s occasional hockey game and (gasp) the death of Charlie’s hamster, but none of that outweighs genuine dedication to family. On Christmas Eve, Jack plans a holiday retreat to the family cabin with no television, no excuses, and most importantly, no band, however Jack finds his lifelong dream at a crossroads when he receives a last-minute invitation to play a record exec’s personal Christmas party. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Charlie doesn’t see it that way. He chastises his father for backing out on his plans, returning an old harmonica Jack bequeathes to him and sulking back into the house.

There’s nothing wrong with indicting shitty parenting, but that’s not what Jack Frost’s quartet of script doctors (including Daredevil’s Mark Steven Johnson) have on their hands. Halfway through the band’s road trip, Jack has a change of heart and ditches the gig (and the band) to be with his family on Christmas — that is, until his car veers off the mountaintop in the middle of a fatal snowstorm. Jack Frost weirdly brushes past the mourning process, jumping ahead a full year for Jack’s reincarnation as a talking snowdad. Still reeling from the loss of his father, Charlie indulges in a cathartic replication of his father, bedecking his snowman with Jack’s pork pie hat, scarf, and favorite carrot, and by some miracle, his spirit returns to embody the snowman. Or something. (There are multiple magic whirlwinds in Jack Frost.) Following up the gut punch of Jack’s death with such a zany concept feels more than a touch disrespectful, especially considering its proximity to the glib account of his accident.

Nevermind the tragedy though because it’s all downhill from here — downhill snowboarding that is! When Charlie finally warms to the idea of his father’s frosty form, Jack Frost becomes unrecognizable from its preceding 25 minutes, stretching any previous moments of camp into full-on sequences. Snowman Jack teaches Charlie his patented hockey move, “the J-shot,” and helps mount a snowball fight against neighborhood bullies. The film treats these moments like a change of pace in Charlie and Jack’s relationship, as if a button nose and corncob pipe can give its father a new lease on life. Barring his physical change though, Jack’s pretty much the same dude sans blues band, as loving and laid back as ever — he even breezes over his own non-human reincarnation rather quickly.

Charlie eventually comes to his senses, more or less realizing what a shitty, unappreciative son he’s been. He takes his father to the same family cabin in the mountains in the hopes that the colder climate will save his new snowdad from melting. Jack’s snowform however, has apparently been imbued with wintry omniscience, telling Charlie their time is almost up and packaging in a sugary mixed message about coping with loss. For Jack, now that Charlie’s let his father back into his heart, he can do anything. It’s an after-school special moment on the heels of dumb set pieces and a do-or-die hockey game, and it doesn’t really make much sense. But then again, this is a movie about a talking snowman, and apart from its ludicrous, unexplained hook, Jack Frost doesn’t know if it wants to be madcap or sentimental. Speaking practically, alternating hot and cold schmaltz must do a number on snowpeople.

Way #1: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)

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One response to “12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #4: ‘Jack Frost’ (1998)

  1. Pingback: 12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #5. ‘Jingle All the Way’ | Majestic Wolf Blog

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