Rated PG - Running time: 1:35 - Released 12/11/98

If your kids have seen all the cartoon features currently playing and are in the mood for a light-hearted Christmas film, Warner Brothers' Jack Frost may be your best bet at the moment. That is not to say that it is spectacular in any way, or even remotely memorable. But with Michael Keaton, Mark Addy (last seen in The Full Monty) and Kelly Preston, not to mention 12-year-old Joseph Cross, the acting is good enough to create a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. It is certainly better than Disney's live-action offering, I'll Be Home For Christmas.

The plot is simple — in fact, too simple for most people over 10 years of age. Keaton plays a struggling blues singer from Denver who happens to bear the same name as the famous cold-weather delivery boy, Jack Frost. He has a lovely, loving wife named Gabby (Preston) and a son, Charlie (Cross). Jack loves his family very much, but his career always seems to pull him away. He frequently misses Charlie's hockey games (in which his team is usually defeated), and also fails repeatedly to help Gabby around the house. But they all have a happy, sappy relationship anyway. When he returns home after one of his long absences, he gives Charlie his most prized harmonica, telling him that if he (Charlie) plays it, he (Jack) will always hear him.

Soon after that, Jack gets killed in a car accident while trying to make it home in time for Christmas. The film immediately cuts to a year later, when the family is trying to prepare for Christmas while still not really over their tragedy. Jack's former bandmate Mac (Addy) has given up playing, Charlie is antisocial at school and quits hockey, and Gabby is trying to keep Charlie in good spirits despite her own melancholia. But then Charlie builds a snowman using his late father's hat and scarf, and also comes across the harmonica and blows a few sad notes. With that, the spirit of Jack magically enters the snowman and he comes to life (with Keaton's voice).

After father and son both get over the fact that Jack is now a snowman, they resume their old relationship, with Jack trying to make up for the fact that he never spent enough time with Charlie. They go sled riding, get in snowball fights, and practice hockey together. But everyone else, including Gabby, Mack, and the kids at school (none of whom know about Jack's chilly resurrection) see Charlie talking to the creature and think that he has gone completely off the deep end.

Despite its simplistic story, the film has a good cast and provides a campy holiday feel. Keaton's patented confused-but-cool act works well in this role, and his relationships with the others are satisfying. There's plenty of fun and adventure, and comic relief is thrown in with a subplot involving Charlie's confused coach (Henry Rollins). The effects, some created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and some by George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, are not as sparkling as past projects by those two companies (Jack the Snowman isn't exactly Yoda), but they provide serviceable results for the film's target audience.

Directed by Troy Miller (TV's Beverly Hills Family Robinson) and written by Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch, Grumpy Old Men) and Steven Bloom (James and the Giant Peach), Jack Frost doesn't have much for adults, but at least you can rest your feet while your kid enjoys a light romp through a snowy fantasy. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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