I have to admit it hasn’t been as easy as I would hope finding Christmas movies to watch (and review) this year. Hulu’s offering a lot of stuff, but it’s all Lifetime and ABC Family drivel. Call me crazy, but The Twelve Dates of Christmas doesn’t sound like a winner. And most of the Christmas classics seem to be reserved for Christmas Eve marathons by the various cable networks, so finding spontaneous selections is a matter of doing some serious channel surfing and hoping something turns up — and that it hasn’t already started (I hate watching a movie that’s had even 10 minutes pass). This evening, Encore happened to begin a showing of 1996’s Jingle All the Way literally the very minute my surfing brought me to their listing. I hadn’t seen this Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy, and it sounded like it at least had the potential to be mildly entertaining, so this seemed like a minor Christmas miracle to me.
Dictionary.com defines miracle as “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” At no point in that definition does it state that this is a good thing.
Difficult as it may be to believe, this may be the worst film either of these two made.
Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, a workaholic businessman who has been earning the ire of his wife and son by missing important events and breaking promises, all in the name of his job. Howard’s a kind of jovial, but slightly stressed guy, and Schwarzenegger is at least believable in the film’s attempts to show a guy who loves his family but is poor at showing it. Rita Wilson plays his wife, Liz, and delivers irritated remarks with such snark that had the lines been written by comedy writers, she probably would have slain the audience. Sadly, we got a script by Randy Kornfield (career high point: Eight Legged Freaks) which relies on pratfalls and randomness, and nary a witty line of dialogue to be heard. Howard and Liz’s son Jamie is played by Jake Lloyd, 3 years before he earned the wrath of internet fanboys by playing the role every young boy has wanted to play since 1977; the kid so far seems doomed to mediocre movies, which is too bad since he shows a decent amount of talent here, switching moods quickly but believably, in the mercurial way that children do.
After missing his kid’s karate class demonstration, Howard promises to make it up to him by getting him a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas. This is an easy task, as Liz asked him to pick one up weeks ago… or would be had Howard actually done so. So on Christmas Eve, the plot kicks off with Howard desperately trying to find a Turbo Man so he doesn’t disappoint his kid again, and doesn’t piss off his wife again. He’s thwarted along the way by another father questing for Turbo Man, a deranged mail man named Myron, played by Sinbad. He also has some recurring trouble with a beleaguered cop (Robert Conrad), and while he’s away from his home, divorced neighbor Ted (Phil Hartman) tries to make the moves on his wife. Martin Mull and James Belushi have small roles as a radio DJ and a mall Santa. Normally those two would be cause to hope for a “one scene wonder” character, the type that everybody laughs at and remembers, but here they’re just wasted. They don’t get any clever lines of dialogue, and hardly any real attempts at comedic dialogue.
You’re a swarm of disgruntled, thieving mall Santas. Why aren’t you funny?
This is a comedy, but I honestly cannot say I laughed even once at this film. I laughed a few times at Deck the Halls; I even laughed once (just once) at A Christmas Too Many. But Jingle All the Way didn’t manage to get me laughing at any point. There are a few gags and scenes where maybe I was mildly amused, and maybe would have laughed had I not already started to tire of the film about a third of the way through. But it never really gets the ball rolling. There’s a fair amount of physical comedy, which is great if and only if you can pull it off, but Schwarzenegger and Sinbad can’t, or perhaps director Brian Levant couldn’t. The timing was off throughout. There was a fair amount of cringe comedy, and not only was it all bad, it was all predictable… this film has very few surprises in it; although I will grant the Turbo Man parade suit surprised me, but not really in a good way. I don’t believe even the most dedicated costume designer is going to include a working jet-pack in a costume for a Christmas parade.
The film has another problem with believability in the basic premise. Howard has all this trouble because the Turbo Man action figure has been sold out for weeks, and people are going nuts trying to get it. The film had a certain degree of prescience in that this situation was played out just a month later in real life with the Tickle Me Elmo doll, and again a few years later with the Furby, and of course video game consoles. But though there are real-life examples, it didn’t seem believable here. The thing about the Tickle Me Elmo and the Furby is that there were a few factors playing into the mania. The Furby was a talking toy which could “learn” English gradually, requiring some adept programming to create and thus some specific electronic hardware. Tickle Me Elmo was simpler, but was still a little bit above just pushing a button to have a few pre-programmed phrases spoken. It probably takes a little bit more time to produce those than an action figure, even a talking action figure, and it definitely takes more time to make a video game console. More importantly in the case of the toys, and regarding this movie, is that the Tickle Me Elmo and the Furby were surprise super-hits. While expected to be successful, nobody predicted everybody with a kid would want one. This surprise demand exceeded the supply, creating the scarcity that caused the fanaticism.
That doesn’t apply in this movie. Turbo Man is a phenomenon in this movie, with a hit TV show, a great many toys, he’s even the focal character in the town’s Christmas parade. Even the adults know which characters kids like from the show; Turbo Man’s popularity is a surprise to nobody. And the toy sold out weeks ago? I call shenanigans. There is no way, not a chance, that a toy manufacturer wouldn’t have produced a massive shipment of those toys — either initially, or after the initial sell-out and in plenty of time for the Christmas rush. I could let that slide if the movie was funny — believability is only a small problem in a good comedy anyway — but this is not a good comedy, it is not funny, and I’m not going to cut it slack on account of any qualities it doesn’t actually possess.
Somewhere on the internet, somebody has probably adapted this picture into a dance mix video. And it’s probably funnier than this movie.
The movie does have one highlight, which is the town’s Christmas parade. While one might have expected all the characters in the parade to be like Turbo Man — i.e., made up for this film — the producers actually had people in all sorts of famous character costumes in the parade. Ninja Turtles, Snoopy, even the Tick… if I were a kid at that parade, I’d be beside myself at all the cool characters showing up. Heck, I’d probably feel pretty awestruck even now. Sadly, the rest of this movie left me feeling awestruck at just how mind-bogglingly terrible it was. Turns out the internet could have warned me recently; Fandango.com had a poll whose results they just published, and Jingle All the Way was voted the 3rd worst Christmas movie. While I don’t know if I’d agree with all of their top ten, I can’t argue with them on this one. This is an awful, awful movie.