Flu-suffering reviewer gives cold take on 'Jack Frost'
Web posted on: Thursday, December 17, 1998 1:45:24 PM EST
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- If your kids are itching to see the new talking-snowman movie, "Jack Frost," and you're thinking it might be easier to sit through after you've downed a couple of beers, don't bother. I just watched the whole thing while tanked up on cold medicine, and it's a definite no-go. Even in my hyper-medicated, green-lipped state I could still determine that it was a complete turkey, albeit with holiday fixings.
That's right. Your faithful reviewer woke up the morning of the movie with a major case of the flu ... stuffy nose, sore throat, sweat-drenched Chewbacca pajamas. But the CNN word-eating monster waits for no man, so I drug myself down to Times Square - now infested with Disney-approved rodents - to cover a movie that stars Michael Keaton as a blues musician who's killed in a car wreck and returns to earth in the form of a living snowman after his depressed son blows a forlorn note on a magical harmonica.
I'm not gonna blame Keaton for this mess, even though he's right there in the middle of it. I think he's a talented performer who only occasionally appears in pictures that exist solely as a device to rake in some cash, quality be damned. Besides, he's only on screen for the first section of the movie, then gets to deliver the rest of his performance via a huge Muppet. Not a bad gig, all things considered. It sure beats wearing that bulky Batman suit and getting chased by missile-toting penguins.
No, it's pretty obvious who's to blame here. You can tell that "Jack Frost" stands a solid chance of biting it even before you enter the theater by noting that the poster lists four writers under the "screenplay" heading. Four! "Chinatown" required one! This movie is a 24-carat example of writing by committee, Hollywood's version of baking by committee. You can follow some vague recipe for box office success as closely as you want, but unless a single person is in charge of measuring out the ingredients and throwing the cake in the oven, you're in for a half-baked, doughy mess. If you consider cliched declarations of gushy love and contrived action scenes to be "content," "Jack Frost" is definitely for you. Everyone else, though, is in for a major tummy-ache.
I don't know the exact route that "Jack Frost"'s script took on its way to the screen, but the dialogue is so consistently lame, and the feel-good vibe so painfully obvious, it feels like no one invested an ounce of heart into it. The story itself is your garden-variety "bad Dad makes good" routine, peppered with ice/snow/weather jokes. There's a montage set to an iffy blues song (vocal by Keaton, displaying as much phony-soul as Bruce Willis), and the soundtrack features a string of carefully-selected oldies just in case any baby-boomers are in the area. Get a group of people to "improve on" this game plan by randomly adding their two cents to the original version of the screenplay, and you've got yourself a movie!
Kinda makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?
That much sheer calculation might work for "Armageddon" (if the gross is your only measure a film's worth, it certainly did work), but this is a Christmas movie, folks! The main attraction is supposed to be the human heart, not a big, blabbering snowman who slides down hills and has his crystals rearranged by tree branches and plows. The snowman looks great, of course. When the guys at Jim Henson Productions and Industrial Light and Magic get down to work, it always looks great.
But the sentimentality in the script oozes insincerity, like it's something that's been grudgingly inserted to please a specific demographic. When I left the theater I felt like a research team had been systematically baby-talking me for an hour-and-a-half. In a word, most of the movie's tear-jerking plays like a big, fat lie. I think it says a lot about the industry that we can now believably present Frosty single-handedly wiping out an entire legion of brats in a snowball fight, but we can't display any honest emotion or human insight because the effects guys don't have a program for it in their computer.
Kelly Preston plays Keaton's long-suffering wife, but never fear. As Freud once wrote, "The pathway to reconstructing the detritus of a shattered relationship is an extended sojourn as a sentimental snowman." Okay, Freud didn't really write that. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.
"Jack Frost" contains some schoolyard scuffling. No sexual content. (We all know the difference between a snowman and a snow-woman, but, luckily, they never make an appearance.) Rated PG. 95 minutes.
Warner Bros., a Time Warner property, is a sister company to CNN Interactive.
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