Cool calculation

Movie: Jack Frost

Our Rating: 3.00

If grown-ups can tinker with the Hereafter in films like What Dreams May Come and Meet Joe Black," why shouldn't kids? In "Jack Frost," they do, with moderately pleasing results that should amuse the older preteen set. You know, the kids too cool for animation and guaranteed to titter whenever a character makes references to something with balls. The same kids who keep families like the Hansons in top tax brackets. But parents, even if you don't know who the Hansons are, you'll enjoy the "Jack Frost" soundtrack, a collection of bluesy tunes from old fave groups like Fleetwood Mac and Yes.

Would it be cynical to notice that the whole movie is split between boomer parent attractions (like Michael Keaton in the title role) and quickly maturing kid stars like Joseph Cross of "Wide Awake" and numerous TV roles? It may be cynical, but it's also obvious.

Targeted viewers won't mind much, though; what might irritate them more is the predictability of the plot. The storyline, which somehow took four screenwriters to fill in the familiar blanks, starts with good-natured Colorado musician Jack Frost neglecting his son to pursue stardom. He regrets his mistakes, especially after he's killed in an off-screen auto crash. A year later, his still-despondent son (Cross) fondles his dad's harmonica and dons a snowman with his dad's signature hat. The snowman springs to life, eager to overcompensate for missing Christmas, the kid's hockey game, etc. Snowy hi-jinks and teary resolutions soon follow.

Jim Henson's Creature Shop makes the snowman an amiable sort of roly-poly playmate for the kid. Veteran movie funnyman Keaton, who seems naturally to have charm to burn, brightens any slow spots, including the threat of melting. Likable and sexy Kelly Preston ("Jerry Maguire") plays Mom, leading a cast of grown-ups happy to upset their lives to ease kiddy discomfort, as only movieland grown-ups can.

By the time the snowman returns to that great flurry in the sky, "Jack Frost" has charmed us in a dozen ways, all of which you've seen before. That maturing preteen at your side hasn't seen it so often, though, and that'll guarantee the producers plenty of jack this year and on video in years to come. Even without anything particularly original, that part of this cinematic cool calculation works just fine.

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