Jingle All the Way (1996) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and mild language
Running Time: 89 min.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jake Lloyd, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, James Belushi, Martin Mull, Laraine Newman (cameo), Harvey Korman (cameo), Richard Moll (cameo), Curtis Armstrong (cameo)
Director: Brian Levant
Screenplay: Randy Kornfield
Review published November 27, 2006

Although not the worst film in Arnold Schwarzenegger's career (if you can believe it), it's still the one that has made him the butt of the most jokes.  Schwarzenegger wasn't exactly a stranger to comedy, having made a couple of straight comedies (Junior, Twins), as well as spoofs on his action hero formula (True Lies, Last Action Hero) in recent years.  However, what he hadn't quite done is go the distance into shamefully trite family comedies for all ages, especially one so lame, so the snickers turned into guffaws at Arnold's expense, to the detriment to his once vaunted status as the world's biggest action box office attraction.  It would be the last Schwarzenegger film to make as much money at the US theatrical box office as the production budget.

The plot is pure sitcom: Schwarzenegger is Howard Langston, a workaholic father too absorbed in his own dealings to make good on his promises to be there for his son Jamie (Lloyd, The Phantom Menace) on certain special occasions.  He's tired of hearing the complaints from Jamie and his wife Liz (Wilson, Sleepless in Seattle), so to make things right, he intends to get Jamie the toy he's always wanted, the TurboMan action figure, which has quickly become the hottest selling toy around, and impossible to find.  Desperate to make good on his promise, as well as the lie he tells to his wife that he already has it in his possession, Howard travels from store to store in competion with other nasty shoppers all trying, mostly in vain, to secure one of the action figures for their own children.  As the big day looms ever closer, TurboMan seems to be always just beyond his grasp, along with the love of his family.

Holiday comedies have become a tradition over the years, and it seems that every year has produced at least three or four new attempts at the genre, in the hopes that they become a family tradition.  Although Jingle All the Way is mocking the rabid fervor for materialism that has permeated nearly every aspect of Christmas, it does become a victim of its own skewering by trying to produce as lucrative a comedic vehicle for Schwarzenegger as possible by playing things as formulaic and slapstick-y as possible.  Perhaps more ironic, it actually has become a semi-regular staple on television showings around December, the perfect innocuous comedy for families looking to watch something that young and old can relate to, especially those who have experienced the "gotta have it" mentality among kids and teens alike.

As well-meaning as the film may be, what really keeps it from any form of success is that it isn't very funny.  Sure, Arnold is likeable and the cast of comedic actors is solid (particularly Phil Hartman as the smarmy neighbor), but the gags aim too low, employing an almost cartoon-ish approach reminiscent of the Home Alone tradition of malicious Christmas comedies.   Like the toy craze that rears its ugly head every year, Jingle All the Way suffers from overkill -- a rabid, morally dubious squeeze to the pocket books that tells everyone that the way to get into your kid's heart is through getting him the presents he wants at Christmas time.  (Oh, if it weren't so true!)

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo