Jingle All the Way (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Jingle All the Way represents Arnold Schwarzenegger's fourth attempt at a "straight" comedy (I'm not counting Last Action Hero or True Lies, which were highly action-oriented), and, like the others that came before it, this movie isn't all that funny. While it's true that the driving idea behind putting Schwarzenegger in this kind of picture -- the big, hulking action hero struggling to overcome "normal" problems -- has potential, the film makers never attempt anything really ambitious. The result is a pastiche of silly, cartoonish action and variably amusing physical humor.

Another problem with Jingle All the Way is the premise, which lacks the substance and comic potential to form the basis of a feature-length movie. Jingle All the Way seems hopelessly dragged out, as if the film makers came up with a great pitch, then, once they got the go-ahead, couldn't figure out how to extend things beyond TV sit-com length. Consequently, the picture sags noticeably in the middle as the director and screenwriters fight to extend the running length.

Almost everyone has memories of a birthday, Christmas, or other holiday when they either got or didn't get a gift they had been coveting. From a parent's perspective, trying to purchase such a present, especially if it's the "hot" toy of the year (remember Cabbage Patch Dolls and Transformers?), can be an agonizing experience, especially if they wait until the last minute. In Jingle All the Way, it's Christmas Eve, and Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) is desperate to get the TurboMan action figure for his son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd). Howard, a workaholic, has been neglecting his family lately, and he sees this as an opportunity to redeem himself. Unfortunately, all the stores are sold out. The result is a crazy, surreal series of misadventure through the streets and malls of Minneapolis. Along the way, he encounters a rival (Sinbad) on the same quest, a mirthless police officer (Robert Conrad) who likes giving out tickets, and a con-artist Santa (James Belushi). Meanwhile, as Howard is scouring the city for the last TurboMan, his bachelor next door neighbor, Ted (Phil Hartman), is getting closer to his wife, Liz (Rita Wilson).

Back when Twins was released, the idea of putting Schwarzenegger in a comedy was both audacious and innovative. And, for the most part, it worked -- at least the first time. Twins wasn't the funniest film of the year, but there was a certain appeal in watching the big man in such an atypical role. Then came Kindergarten Cop and Junior, each lessons in diminishing returns. Now that we've seen this conceit repeatedly, the uniqueness has worn off. Schwarzenegger is, after all, more of a personality than an actor, so there are limits to how much he can bring to this role.

Jingle All the Way has its moments, all of which are lowbrow. Howard's madcap dash after a runaway super ball is worth a chuckle or two, as is his encounter with an unfriendly reindeer. And certain aspects of the climax are legitimately hilarious. Overall, however, the film is filled with too many stale spots. The few attempts at satirizing the toy market are unfocused and not particularly daring. (Which begs the question: could it be that there are real TurboMan dolls on the way?) Sinbad, portraying a postal worker who is teetering on the edge, brings some life and energy to the production, but not enough to keep it from feeling much longer than it actually is.

On the positive side, Jingle All the Way is suitable for family consumption. It's a genial, inoffensive movie, and all of the violence is exceedingly mild (people get punched and kicked, but no one is seriously injured). The real problem with Jingle All the Way has nothing to do with its suitability for certain age groups, but its suitability in general. Being good-natured and family-friendly has little to do with being consistently entertaining. Jingle All the Way is forgettable, and that, more than anything else, is why I recommend passing up this holiday offering.

Jingle All the Way (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 1996-11-22
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1