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Throughout recorded history, people have devised stories to explain what happens to their loved ones when they die. In retrospect, these tales are hard to credit, but give your ignorant, superstitious forebears some credit: The fables they imagined are a lot more compelling than the ones Hollywood has manufactured recently.

Last month, Meet Joe Black presented Death as a peevish hunk with a semi-Oedipal agenda: First he kills you, then he marries your daughter. Now Jack Frost has found an even less likely embodiment of the afterlife than Brad Pitt: Frosty the Snowman, who’s so moribund he’s a Colorado roots-rocker.

Actually, Jack Frost (Michael Keaton, whose career may soon attract Jack Kevorkian’s attention) is still alive when he’s playing in a Colorado blues-rock band. Jack, a great guy whose musical ambition causes him to neglect his flawless son, Charlie (Joseph Cross), and his pretty, impeccably understanding wife Gabby (Kelly Preston), is introduced onstage in Denver giving a bluesy reading to, yes, “Frosty the Snowman.” This moment alone might seem sufficient mortification to cause the movie’s music director, former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin, to pull the plug. But there’s no sense of musical shame to this project, which was co-produced by ’70s rock baron Irving Azoff. The narrative is punctuated by songs and chatter from a classic-rock station, Hanson updating the Spencer Davis Group and the Young Rascals, and a bit from a Stevie Ray Vaughan video. (Dead bluesmen stick together, apparently, although scripters Mark Steven Johnson, Steve Bloom, Jonathan Roberts, and Jeff Cesario fail to invoke an equally appropriate rock ghost, John Denver.)

After years of struggle, Frost and his band (which includes Rabin and Mark Addy, the plumpest of The Full Monty crew) get a chance at a major-label record contract. Scoring that elusive prize, however, requires playing a Christmas-day gig at a record executive’s Aspen home, which means Jack must break his promise to spend the holiday with his family. Partway to the exec’s party, Jack’s parental guilt kicks in, and he decides to skip the show and head back to Charlie and Gabby. When a blizzard hits, however, he drives off the road and into oblivion.

Next Christmas, Charlie accidentally summons Dad by blowing a “magic” harmonica, and Jack is alive again—in the form of the snowman his son has just assembled. Aside from a chance encounter with Charlie’s hockey coach (Henry Rollins, making a bid for a second career as a different sort of musclebound stooge), Jack doesn’t reveal himself to anyone but Charlie. The two finally get that long-needed quality time together, as Jack teaches Charlie how to handle bullies, triumph on the hockey rink, and accept the, uh, reality of death.

Director Troy Miller, whose previous credits are mostly for television, and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs deal competently with the many problems associated with both real and fake snow, and the snowman puppet (worn by Denise Cheshire) isn’t as cheesy as it could have been. Still, the imagery falls well short of the filmmakers’ visual model, Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book The Polar Express. The movie’s look is no more enchanted than its father-son bonding scenario.

Despite its inevitably sentimental coda, Jack Frost bids for the preteen male audience with scenes of snowball wars, snowboard chases, and hockey rivalry. The film is rated PG not for its depiction of Jack’s death, which couldn’t be more discreet, but for its mild sexual content, which includes mom and dad’s bedroom foreplay as well as slushy anatomical gags: When Jack and Charlie build a snowman, the former suggests equipping their creature with a twig penis; after Jack actually becomes a snowman, two snowballs hit his torso and briefly adhere, suggesting a pair of snowy (snicker) breasts.

Earlier this year, Jack Frost star Cross starred in Wide Awake, playing a grave youngster so concerned with the fate of his dead grandfather that an angel begins appearing to him at his parochial school. Cross wasn’t even born when Eddie and the Cruisers was made, and I guess he was a little young for the Velvet Goldmine role of the guy who discovers that David Bowie—I mean, Brian Slade—is still alive. Given his ability to keep a straight face throughout this classic-rock weepie, though, he’s surely a contender for the part of the earnest child who meets Tupac upon his return from the dead.CP