Review: “Jingle All the Way”
Directed by: Brian Levant
Produced by: Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Mark Radcliffe
Written by: Randy Kornfield, Chris Columbus (uncredited rewrite)
Editing by: Kent Beyda, Wilton Henderson, Adam Weiss
Cinematography by: Victor J. Kemper
Music by: David Newman
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Robert Conrad, Jim Belushi
A lot of Christmas movies attempt to sell us the idea that they know what the true meaning of Christmas is. Usually movies like these involve the main character committing some sort of minor, selfish sin that hurts a member (or members) of their family, especially the children, before going through some ordeal that causes them to realize, through some contrived epiphany, that all important (and incredibly generic) meaning behind the season: family. Cue the proverbial rush to make things right through some sort of breathless plea for forgiveness and confessions of mutual love before the warm embrace with their loved ones (spinning around is optional, but gazing upward in triumph is usually a must). It’s a familiar and easy formula, sometimes doctored up to make the story seem original, but usually there’s at least some sort of artificial sincerity at the film’s core that is just enough to make you feel warm inside, even if it’s just for a guilty moment.
Jingle All the Way, however, is a special case in that it tries to be a send-up on the commercialization of Christmas while also struggling to be a heartwarming family Christmas comedy, ultimately resulting in a film that doesn’t know what message it wants to convey. It possesses all of the essential ingredients above, and yet also succeeding in never evoking any semblance of empathy of the horrible characters on screen — not even the cherubic little kid, played by Jake Lloyd (a.k.a., the maligned child actor who is credited with helping to destroy the Star Wars film saga as an infantile Anakin Skywalker in Episode I [as opposed to the maligned adult actor who played an infantile and unintentionally creepy Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II – III]).
The film’s protagonist Howard Langston, in particular, will test audiences’ patience with a disagreeable “hero” who basically does all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons in his quest to come into possession of the film’s MacGuffin, a rare Turbo-Man action figure that will surely buy back his son’s love after spending one too many Christmases at the office. His quest is more motivated by his desire to get back into good graces with his family than it is actual remorse for what he’s done. It’s hard to sympathize with a character whose means of buying back his family’s love involves the endangerment of several people’s lives, multiple lies to pretty much anyone that inconveniences him well into his supposed redemption (especially to his family), and even considers theft a viable option (admittedly the character’s breaking point).
But even this would all be fine if the filmmakers’ other goal of creating a comical satire came to fruition, but Jingle All the Way fails spectacularly at this, as well. The closest it comes to being a competent spoof is the concept of Jim Belushi’s “backdoor Santa” gouging Schwarzenegger as the neglectful father. The concept, mind you, not the actual scene in which he features, as even that’s tainted by the fact that it involves not one, but two little people vying for your lowbrow laughs as they and several other elf and Santa-suited con-men attack Schwarzenegger with over-sized candy canes accompanied by funny sound effects and cartoon physics. The critique of commercialism is dissipated entirely by the end of the film, when there’s a last ditch effort to redeem Howard after the aforementioned attempted larceny.
Howard, through no effort of his own, manages to aimlessly stumble upon good fortune when the role of Turbo-Man in the Christmas parade his family rightfully believed he was missing is handed over to him in a case of mistaken identity. Naturally, this also puts him into one final conflict with his action figure-seeking rival, a deranged postal worker played by Sinbad. This conflict somehow escalates into an absurd action sequence that puts Howard’s son into legitimate danger which, naturally, can only be resolved by Howard actually putting his Turbo-Man suit’s surprisingly functional props to use. The feel-good ending, wherein Howard promises to his son that he can always be counted on to be there for him, hardly feels deserved, but the film also lacks the bite necessary to make it feel like a genuine attempt at dark humor, too, since pretty much everyone gets what they want in the end.
It’s a sad scenario when Jim Belushi is the most watchable, believable actor in your movie, despite the fact that it also features the otherwise loveable Phil Hartman as a smarmy next door neighbor who has the hots for Rita Wilson — who, as the wife, was supposed to provide the film with a love interest but is never given the chance, thanks to sharing maybe, like, two short scenes with Schwarzenegger. To expect any semblance of logic, sanity, or justice from Jingle All the Way, however, is probably a sign of madness, and I feel ridiculous enough having thought about and written this review. That an extended cut of this turd was a thing that was offered to me upon the disc booting up is an even greater insult to humanity than the fact that the theatrical version exists in the first place. Do yourself a favor and go see Elf for the umpeenth time in a day, instead, if you want your silly, sentimental holiday fix.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0.5 / 5