Jingle All the Way
Directed by Brian Levant. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, Martin Mull, James Belushi. (1996, PG, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 29, 1996
Jingle All the Way is yet another scary, mean-spirited, holiday “comedy” that's about as much fun as a stocking full of dead spiders. Producer Chris Columbus scored a huge hit as a director a few years back with the godawful-yet-crowd-pleasing Macaulay Culkin vehicle Home Alone. This time out protégé Levant (The Flintstones, Beethoven) takes the helm and once again proves my theory that the bastard cinematic offspring of John Hughes mutate into ever more spiteful critters every other generation or so. (Oddly, Hughes himself was responsible for one of my all-time holiday favorites, the manic Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Make of this what you will.) Jingle All the Way posits Schwarzenegger as Howard Langston, a harried Minneapolis businessman who has plenty of time for all his “number one customers,” but seemingly none for his wife Liz (Wilson) or young son Jamie (Lloyd). When Howard misses Jamie's third karate awards ceremony in a row, he vows to make up for it by promising the boy the hottest Christmas toy on the market: a Turbo Man action figure. Unfortunately, it's Christmas Eve, and getting his hands on the pricey figure is well-nigh impossible at this stage -- like the Cabbage Patch Kids of yore and the more recent Power Rangers figures, there are simply none to be had. A promise is a promise, however, and Howard embarks on a wild, 24-hour race against time to locate what may be the sole remaining action figure in all of the Twin Cities. Along the way, he runs into Sinbad's Myron Larabee, a disgruntled postal worker on the same impossible mission for his child, and tangles with a hardcase cop (Conrad) and a smarmy, scheming neighbor (Hartman, the only comic glint in the whole show). Like the Hughes films of the late Eighties, Jingle All the Way is a continuing stream of setup/gag, setup/gag, few of which pay off in any memorable way. The comedy here is spiteful and vicious (and occasionally nonexistent) -- holiday humor with a decidedly nasty cruel streak. One particularly distasteful bit even goes so far as to play off parents' fear of pedophiles. Try as it might, the film's practical message about the perils of Yuletide consumerism is lost in the shuffle, ground under the sooty, hobnailed boots of evil Santas and line readings so wooden you could heat your house with them for weeks at a time. Unfunny and worse, unpleasant, Jingle All the Way is holiday cheer from the warped psyche of a Scrooge. Even the Grinch wouldn't like this one.