Jingle All the Way is a bleak, nasty portrait of consumerist Turbo Time at Christmas. It’s a tonic for the schmaltz.
Halfway through the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger asks: ‘I couldn’t find the doll, does that make me a bad father?’ The answer is no, but when it comes to giddy kids raring to rip open their presents, the answer is yes.
We can teach kids about the values of season, how giving is more important than receiving, how being with one’s family and breaking bread is what Christmas is all about. But also, let’s grow up and get real – most children feverishly await the latest toy, games console or gizmo beneath the tree. The nightmare of their disappointment drives a horrid part of holidays for parents: shopping.
Directed by Brian Levant and written by the esteemed Randy Kornfield, of Eight Legged Freaks renown, Jingle All the Way pits Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) against the riotous crowds on Christmas Eve in a bid to get a Turbo Man action figure for his son Jamie (Jake Lloyd).
The only problem is, it’s the ‘hottest-selling Christmas toy ever’. He was supposed to pick the doll up weeks before the big day – now, they’re seemingly all gone. When he asks a clerk for help, they violently laugh in his face. The shoppers soon join in.
As if this humble Minneapolis mattress salesman’s problems weren’t enough, he also has to contend with a bomb-packing postman (Sinbad) also trying to get the toy, and competition on the home front from divorcee neighbour Ted (the incredible Phil Hartman), a local lothario with a sh*t-eating grin trying to snag his wife (Rita Wilson).
Arnie’s battled some wild foes – Satan, Batman, Predator, to name a few. Yet, the ugliest motherf*ckers he’s faced are the smug sales assistants smiling as the manager announces Turbo Man figures are now double the list price. Supply and demand, baby. How fitting that It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year plays at this moment.
Then there’s the fraudulent Santas – not in the regard that they’re not the real deal, but they’re punting faulty, counterfeit Turbo Men at extortionate prices from a warehouse. When Arnie finds out, he engages in a scrap tantamount to a Hallmark version of The Matrix Reloaded, featuring Jim Belushi, Verne Troyer and the Big Show.
I loved this film when I was younger. I still do now. But I can see my mum and dad’s argument against it; it takes away from the idea of Santa bringing presents. It all comes down to parental preference, but belief in the big man is already in short supply. A movie that so readily scraps the idea that’s seemingly for the whole family – despite the deep current of innuendo, like Wilson’s clear arousal at the life-size hero – is a bit iffy.
Ted says early on, ‘You can never do too much to make a child’s Christmas magical’. Not to give too much away, but Arnie becomes so obsessed with finding Turbo Man that he basically becomes him. Dumb plot point or metaphor for obsession over getting the perfect present… definitely the former, but hey ho (sorry, ho ho).
Other seasonal films have a purer heart. But there’s a gap for a film like this, with its wacky turns (punching a reindeer in the face), one-liners (‘Put the cookie down!’), Arnie giving it 100% without always pulling it off. and a knowingly corrupt story.
It almost cuts a little close to the bone this year, what with the bloodthirsty demand for the PS5. Alas, there’ll always be a must-have gift, and Jingle All the Way will endure as rewatchable, contemptuous nonsense.