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In Defense of Jingle All the Way
Jingle All the Way - people either consider this a beloved part of 90's Christmas nostalgia or complete rubbish. Based on the title you can probably guess which camp I fall under. First of all, I'm not gonna act like it is a perfect film. It has some flaws - serious flaws. However, I would like to explain why I like to watch this film every Christmas (or should I say "every year around Christmas" but let's not split hairs). So let's go over the strengths and weaknesses of this Christmas... movie.
Whether you like this movie or not, I think we can agree that Arnold Schwarzenegger being the star made this film unique. Even as a kid, this stood out like a sore thumb. Surely even millennials have pieced together that Arnold Schwarzenegger was mainly known for R-rated action films (back when action films WERE R-Rated). And Schwarzenegger wasn't exactly far removed from doing those movies either. The same year he starred in this, he also acted in Eraser. To be fair, it wasn't exactly his first comedy. Schwarzenegger had a funny bone. Aside from willing to be a goof in some of his action movies, the governator appeared in several comedies: Some good (Kindergarten Cop, Twins), some not-so-good (Junior).
However, the big difference between those movies and this one is that they played with Schwarzenegger's reputation as a tough guy. However, in this film, he is just supposed to Joe Everyman father. And that is why Arnold Schwarzenegger sticks out so much: It is a tad hard to believe a 6'4 Austrian bodybuilder as a John Q Public Dad. Yeah, he works all the time, but he still manages to find time to pump iron, huh? The film makes very few references to his shape and reputation. There's a line here and there that acknowledges that Arnold was still in shape. ("You can't bench press your way out of this one.") But for the most part, Arnold's Howard Langston is supposed to be your average American dad... with Austrian accent and muscles on top of muscles.
I don't know if the filmmakers did this on purpose, but do you think this movie would be nearly as memorable if say Chevy Chase or Daniel Stern (two otherwise funny actors who made some rubbish comedies in the 90's) were the star? Jingle All the Way probably would have been another Man of the House or Bushwhacked if either of those guys (or someone else starred in this film). This film is replete with typical dumb dad and sitcom jokes that probably could have fallen flat on their face, but are made kind of funnier by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger do them. Watching Arnold run through a kid's playground and get smacked with women's purses is funnier than if some sitcom dad did those things. Arnold roughing up a cardboard cutout is pretty funny. I crack up every time Arnold pretends to be a martial artist with his son's karate belt. As sick as this sounds, I also find it funny when Arnold gets maced. People still even remember his strange line deliveries - "Put that cookie down! Now!" One of the few pure Schwarzenegger moments is when he punches out a reindeer. Who ELSE could have pulled that off?
A Movie For Its Time
To be honest, much like Batman Forever and Phantom Menace (Oh boy, I just opened up another can of worms, didn't I), Jingle All the Way is one of those movies where if I didn't see it as a kid, I highly question whether or not I would like it. To be fair, there are TONS of movies from my childhood that simply do not hold up. But Jingle All the Way sticks with me, albeit as a guilty pleasure. The film's premise definitely works for its time. For anyone to young to remember, The Turbo Man fiasco in this film is a spoof of the toy binges of the mid-90's such as the rampage that happened over Tickle-Me-Elmo. Maybe that is why this movie resonates with me. I saw it at just the right age for the social satire to not only be relevant, but I actually understood. Even if the satire was blatantly obvious, for an eight-year-old, catching ANY satire made me feel smarter and more adult.
The other reason this movie was for its time is that these things happen a lot less. In a day and age of digital shopping, spending Christmas Eve looking for a present seems pretty passe. The real commentary may be the way times have changed. In 1996, these wild stunts for Christmas present shopping seemed crazy and outlandish. In 2015, people do this every Black Friday, and sadly it is pouring over into Thanksgiving.
One of the things that makes this movie work is that such a simple event as buying a toy for Christmas balloons into an absurd series of events involving a gang of Santa impersonators, trouble with the police, mall chases. I mentioned the plethora of scenes that are funny because of Arnold's presence, but there are still scenes that would be funny even without him - Sinbad's "package" at the radio station, Phil Hartman is pretty funny in his role as a sleazy neighbor, and the cop who enjoys torturing Arnold. Also, the Big Show knocking a little person several feet into the air is good for a few laughs. Of course, when I say stuff is funny, I accept that this all subjective. To quote Gene Siskel, I can't argue you into laughing, and you can't argue me out of laughing.
Not too long ago, Jingle All the Way was released on an extended edition. Some might wonder why anyone would want more of this movie, but the extended edition of this movie is worth checking out just because it ups the weird factor with other funny scenes such as the entire black market Santa hangout singing "The Little Boy Santa Claus" forgot and a scene where Howard buys a Booster doll from Lisa Simpson - who thinks he's hitting on her. Sadly, as much as I like the oddities of this movie, it does not ALL work.
The Third Act
To be totally honest, the third act is when this movie loses me. As mentioned before, what makes this movie work is that the events of this movie are plausible but balloon into absurd. When I say plausible, I mean for its own universe. For the most part, I would say this movie sets up a universe where these preposterous events can happen. However, the third act just goes beyond plausibility in any universe.Two thirds of the movie are just slapstick jokes about toy shopping and zaniness. For some reason, the third act devolves into an actual power rangers-style battle between Howard - who dons a Turbo Man costume - and Sinbad - who puts on the costume of Turbo Man's arch nemesis. In this movie's version of reality, I can buy an army of evil Santa impersonators, I can accept that the two leads don't get arrested for the various crimes they commit, I can even kind of accept a bomb going off in one scene and not killing everyone. But I can NOT accept that some random parade gave it star a fully-functioning jet pack!
Also, I acknowledge I am NOT the first person to point this out, but how can anyone not figure out that is Arnold under that Turbo Man costume at the end? Again, 6'4 Austrian bodybuilder. How many of those do you know? So yeah, I'll give a point to the detractors on this one, the third act of this movie is AWFUL.
There is another huge flaw that this movie has a reputation for: The whole premise of the movie is about Howard trying to get a toy for his son. The movie's moral is SUPPOSED to be that the toy doesn't matter. Howard's love for his son is what matters. I say "supposed to" because this idea is not exactly communicated through the actions. First of all, there is the bane of Howard's existence, his neighbor. Phil Hartman is wonderfully obnoxious as the neighbor Ted. I said a lot of the movie is funny because of Schwarzenegger's inexplicable presence, but I also question if this character would be as funny if not played Phil Hartman. The late Phil Hartman seemed to get the short end of the stick in roles that weren't SNL or the Simpsons, but he could usually make so-so movies and performances funny. The problem is that... well, his character is the villain.
Again, I'm not the first person to point this out, but let's compare actions. Howard is a schmuck who forgot to buy his son the highly coveted Turbo Man because he works all the time. Ted not only remembered to buy his son a Turbo Man, but spends time with him.I think I know what the filmmakers were going for. I think they were trying to pass Ted off as someone who tries to buy his son's love with toys and other novelties. That could work, except for one teensy, weensy problem: THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HOWARD IS DOING. The film even acknowledges this in a scene where Howard snaps and tries to steal Ted's Turbo Man. But he has a crisis of conscience when he sees the note "from your loving father" on the present. The only villainous thing Ted does throughout the movie is try to hit on Howard's wife
The issue with Ted as a villain could be resolved in two (diametrically opposed ways) 1.) Don't make him a villain at all. I have this problem with most movies and TV shows that pull the trope "the girl I like is dating a jerk": Why make the other guy a jerk? The character has a built-in reason to dislike this person. Rivalry and antagonism already exist. Why fabricate more. Howard has to work long hours to provide for his family, things come more naturally for Ted. Why does he have to be a jerk moving in on the guy's wife. Or 2.) Go all the way with Ted as a villain. I mentioned earlier how Ted does act villainous enough, but the movie does hint that he is more interested in chasing women than in taking care of his son. However, we still see him acting like a decent guy most of the time. He makes it to his son's karate recital, spends time with him and remembers what he wanted for Christmas. There is a scene where he loses his temper, still not looking as bad as when Howard does the exact same thing.
Also, Sinbad constantly talks about his son in the movie, but we never see the character. This just makes the son seem like a plot point. We at least see Howard's motivation - that he wants to buy a present for his son and be the good guy. Since we never see Sinbad with his son, we have no idea what kind of relationship they had. He acts like a psycho throughout the rest of the movie, why should we believe he's different with his son?
Perhaps Jingle All the Way would have worked better as a dark satire. Allegedly, Chris Columbus did an uncredited rewrite with that in mind. I think what happened was a mix ideas that did not entirely gel.
So that's Jingle All the Way, and why... come to think of it, I'm not sure I did a great job defending it so-to-speak. Jingle All the Way is sort of a guilty pleasure like Home Alone 2 or Ernest Saves Christmas. I acknowledge the flaws, but I enjoy it anyway.
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