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Nashville Scene Save The Fathers

Hollywood films target dear old Dad

By Walter Jowers

DECEMBER 21, 1998:  How's this for big holiday fun? You can go see Jack Frost, the movie in which Michael Keaton is reincarnated as a cute and playful snowman. It's all about a little boy playing with his snowman dad--just a couple of fun guys snowboarding, hurling snowballs, goofing on the neighbors, and generally having a great old time. Nobody gets naked, and there's no real cussing. Sounds like a swell family movie, right?

No. Hell no. Because to get this whole snowman fantasy going, the little boy's honest-to-God, flesh-and-blood father has to get killed in a car wreck. Somebody tell me how that's funny. Sorry, little buckaroo. The bad news is that daddy's brain matter is splattered all over the dashboard. The good news is, you get to play with this swell snowman until he melts. Happy adolescence.

I hate to sound like one of those people who watches Disney movies backwards and looks for an elf popping a woody. But who dreams this stuff up? And how is it that nobody ever looked at the script and said, "Leave the dad in the story. Let's write in a wacky alcoholic step-uncle and turn him into the snowman."

It makes me wonder if I'm the only person who'll watch this movie and think, That boy's about to be hit by a massive dose of testosterone, a thing that only men understand. He's at the age where he'll come in contact with all manner of dopers, drinkers, liars, cheaters, and boys who choose soccer over baseball. He'll need to learn the important differences between being a primate with a scrotum and being a man. With these trials looming, all this boy's got for a daddy is one melted-ass snowman.

And they call this movie a comedy.

A while back, our little family went to see Armageddon. We knew up front that cities would be destroyed, there'd be some cussing, and the unmarried Liv Tyler character would be sexually active. No problem. Wife Brenda and I were confident that we could put all this into perspective for daughter Jess.

But at the movie's climax, the Bruce Willis character tricked his daughter's sorry-ass boyfriend into flying back to earth while he, daddy Bruce, stayed behind and hand-nuked the killer asteroid. Of course, that meant he was vaporized along with the asteroid in the big, happy applause scene.

Jess cried through the credits and halfway out to the parking lot. The best I could offer was, "Well, see, the daddy knew that his daughter would get killed if the asteroid-nuking job got messed up. So he did the job himself. Any decent daddy would do the same." Jess spent the next two weeks warning her friends not to see the movie. "It's the saddest thing I ever saw," she said, over and over again.

Now, how hard would it have been to leave the defective Steve Buscemi character on the asteroid? That would have been a real crowd-pleaser.

Bad as these two movies are, the ultimate on-screen screw-daddy statement has to be that zany comedy Mrs. Doubtfire. In this one, the Robin Williams character throws an excellent birthday party for his kid, somehow prompting the tight-assed Sally Field character to throw him out of the house, on the theory that he's not holding up his end of the husband-and-father deal. Was he having an affair? No. Was he gambling, or drunk all day, or beating up family members? No, he was just a fun guy with no steady day job.

I've got to tell you, I was thinking, Sally, that prime San Francisco house looks to be worth 2 million dollars, minimum. How about y'all sell it, and you move to Oakland? Leave the kids with Robin Williams, and you write fat child-support checks. Everybody'll be happy but you, you miserable, self-loathing, no-fun old harpy.

Did that happen? Nope. Robin Williams had to move out, leaving the children with no daytime caregiver, and Sally Field had to hire a dang nanny. So Robin Williams dressed up in a menopausal-old-lady suit and reclaimed his old job, which was taking care of his own children. Meanwhile, Sally starts carrying on with that purty-mouthed Pierce Brosnan.

While everybody laughed at Robin Williams setting his fake-foam breasts on fire, I was wondering why he had to dress in drag and bill Sally Field for the job he had been doing for free. And how's this for the happy ending? Eventually, he got to see his own children, without having to dress up like an old lady--not every day, just sometimes, when it was OK with Sally.

Heart-warming, ain't it?

Now, I don't plan to start boycotting movies or writing letters to politicians. Life's too short, and I'm too lazy. But I do wonder: What dimensional warp did we go through to start laughing at snuff-the-daddy movies? How did films like this get filed under "Comedy"?

Maybe it's a guy thing, but every man I know who has lost his father says it was the absolute low point of his life. Meanwhile, movie critics are near-unanimous in saying that Jack Frost is a rip-roaring fun family movie. Bring the kids and leave your worries behind, they say. But I suspect that if we asked our children how they wanted their movies to end, they'd say leave the daddies alive and well--and fully human--at the end of the picture.

I vote with the kids.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nashscene.com>. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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