Friday, January 17, 2014

2013 Holiday Review: Jack Frost

Have you all noticed that I have a perverse sense of humor? It's true! And, if you didn't already know this about me, you're about to learn the lesson hard: my 2013 Holiday film review is 1998's Jack Frost. It's such an inspired pic, I might even have trumped my 2010 Holiday entry, Jaws IV: The Revenge.

In case you don't know what that two word title means, or you think it's the 1997 horror film with Shannon Elizabeth, just watch the trailer below.

"That turned into something wonderful?" "Wonderful" isn't the right word, buddy.

So, yes, we have a teen-targeted holiday film in which the child's dad dies... then comes back to life as a f--king living snowman. I don't care about religious denominations, this idea is both blood-curdling and obviously insane.

"My dead father came back a year later as a snowman" doesn't sound like a "one more chance with my family" story. It sounds like a brutal trip through Purgatory, if not that... other place.

The execution on this crazy premise is equally nuts. We spend much time with teen hijinks and tomfoolery, yet it's always underscored by the fact that our protagonist Charlie Frost (yes, his dad is actually named Jack) has been emotionally hamstrung.

If JF is ripping off ideas from It's a Wonderful Life or Scrooged, then it has removed some crucial elements from those inspiring sources. First, Jack's failings are things he's addressing before he buys the farm. Moreover, Charlie's life is never glamorous, as he has only a few moments of contented screen time before being hobbled by his dad's absenteeism and subsequent expiration.

Ultimately, it's kind of hard to queue up the jingly happy-times songs when a pall of death looms over everything. More importantly, I never got a real sense of the spirit of the holiday season until the end.

But maybe this movie is different. Maybe it's trying to reach out to all those unfortunate half-orphaned kids who don't know how to carry on properly when the people they love die. This would be an easier case to make if not for the preponderance of poop, butt, boob, and penis jokes.

And yet, at the same time, how IS a family film aimed at 10-15 year old boys supposed to play? If it's too "clean," their instinct will be to write it off as for younger kids. All of those jokes I referred to are appropriately-juvenile and aren't too dirty for kids. It's just unsettling that almost all of them are made by Michael Keaton's role. And that his ghost-self takes two snowballs to the chest, then acts for a second like he now has breasts.

But things are still somewhat white-washed. The bullies have stopped picking fights with Charlie because he's been unresponsive since his pop passed on. Dad's death hasn't caused any financial problems for this family, nor has Charlie had to deal with his mother moving on and meeting new men.

I... I don't know what to say.

And I cannot stress enough that the soundtrack is definitely not for kids. It's clearly intended as a sop for any parent who gets pulled into watching this with their children.

One Stevie Nicks' tune aside, it brings me no joy. It aims for this sort of relaxed jam band music, sort of a poor man's Steve Winwood. While such "soft" music might be fitting for a holiday picture, is it appropriate for the intended audience?

Admittedly, I don't know the musical preferences of 10-15 year old snowboarding and hockey playing boys from the Midwest, Lakes Area, Four Corners, and the Pacific Coast... But let's say that there is simply far too much of this... adult contemporary.

Actually, I have to take that back a little - there's a terrible song that plays near the last quarter and I'm happy for its presence. Yes it has this relaxed harmonica-keyboard-guitar vibe going on - y'know where the keyboard always sounds like an organ? - but it made me smile because it was a f--king Hannukah song! That was unnecessary and considerate of them. Then again the song did rhyme "Hanukkah" with "yarmalka," so I do still kind of hate it...

A lot of the complaints come down to the overall story, as it comes in phases:

  • Happy family, and everything is great, save dad's poor follow-through on family time.
  • Father dies, 1 year jump ahead, the family is unsteady but okay.
  • Dad, um, OMICHRIST, HE COMES BACK AS A F--KING LIVING SNOWMAN AND LEARNS TO DEAL WITH THE HORROR OF HIS EXISTENCE. The son has deteriorated enough that he needs some boost and guidance, which the father tries to provide.
  • Everyone's freaking out because the kid acts so damn weird now that he talks to a snowman constantly.
  • Climactically, the kid's life hits a peak of catharsis with a hockey victory. Son of Snowdad freaks because dad is about to melt, so he runs away from home.
  • Snowboy arrives at the old family cabin, makes peace with his pop. Snowdad calls mom, who runs to find her boy, and both get to say a personal goodbye to their loved one as he disappears into a whirlwind and whispers "I will always hear you."
Keep in mind that these events are generally cut up among various comic scenes, sports scenes, and personal horror moments for Keaton's voiceover.

For realsies: I already have another holiday film picked for next year, and that film is deliciously-inappropriate, too. Yet it's still not this insane.

However, the foolish, or ill-conceived, or discordant elements don't take away from the fact that this dumb picture is still a decently-made film. Music aside, of course. The actors all do fine work here. The cinematography is perfectly-serviceable. The CGI doesn't hold up well, but that's hardly a big deal...

The real surprise is that they packed this film with a good cast. Keaton has been a fantastic actor, and I only want to see him in more films. Preston does a fine job. Mark Addy? fills a support role neatly, one of those rare instances where Hollywood remembers that foreigners live here, too.

But I flipped out when they cut to the hockey coach, and it's Henry f--king Rollins.

That's right, ladies and gents: Henry Rollins' surprisingly respectable film CV includes a non-ironic Christmas film.

And the surprises keep coming: three very brief roles are filled by Jay Johnston, John Ennis, and Paul F. Thompkins. These three are all brilliant comedians, and, fine cast or not, it's so weird to see three Mr. Show cast members in the same film.

No, wait - the really weird thing was that Corey flips through TV channels at one point, and he plays 3 seconds of a Mr. Show episode! He changes the channel right before the cursing would've started. A little searching showed that director Troy Miller also helmed 15 eps of HBO's perfect sketch comedy series - mystery solved.

The makers of Jack Frost manage to keep an eye on a few commendable ideas. For one, it isn't long before Snow-Dad starts pushing his boy to do better in school and to be more considerate of his widowed mom.

Better still, there is a moment between Charlie and the local bully where the two just talk frankly and come to some understanding. The genuine sentiment of forgiveness between the two young antagonists is the very essence of the holiday spirit, and it comes so late that I have to give them lots of credit for the sudden turn. Here's the last 4 minutes of JF - I'd say "Merry Christmas," but the context would make me a total jerk:

This isn't a bad holiday family comedy. But really small kids might find an ice-man to be scary, and shouldn't be thinking "what if dad snuffs it on the way back home for Christmas?" And while I can commend the ultimate messages about working through tragedy, taking time to process your feelings, and being more aware of your family and the suffering around you... well, those messages don't receive enough focus to feel like much more than lip service. Okay, maybe the family stuff still lands, but that's about it.

Judging Jack Frost as a film in general, this comedy is not especially good. The story is crazy and hard to justify, even if the plots are carried out well enough. The dialogue isn't bad, and the performances are fine. I just can't pull the good elements from the bad enough to give this a real recommendation.


  1. Would it be a decent movie to have on the television over the Christmas holiday? When it came out in theaters, I thought that was the ultimate goal of the film.

  2. Well, I guess so? Honestly, I would've picked many, many movies before it, even ones I hadn't seen. But if I watched it with friends, we'd be inclined to mock it.

    And yet, it is just a non-offensive family holiday comedy. This is why I'm not trashing it completely in my review. Also, it is good that the lead just makes peace with the bully in the end instead of covering him in 5 feet of snow.

    I guess it all comes down to what would/wouldn't be able to tolerate over the holidays. And how disturbed you are at a dad being revived as an inanimate object...


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