Director: Brian Levant
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Jake Lloyd, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman, James Belushi
Watch Jingle All the Way online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
Jingle All The Way is the least likely Christmas TV fixture of the last 20 years and you almost have to wonder if its enduring appeal to viewers of a certain age is purely down to memes and/or continued exposure to it on the telly at this time of year. Objectively speaking, it’s a tacky tak-edown of decidedly un-festive commercialism, the socio-economic politics of which are dodgy at best. Also, it has a bit where Arnold Schwarzenegger punches a reindeer.
Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, the same sort of workaholic dad that Tim Allen played in The Santa Clause (also on Netflix UK). He’s in the dog house with both his wife, Liz (Rita Wilson), and young son Jamie (Jake Lloyd), after he misses a Christmas karate recital because of work, but luckily, all can be redeemed, as long as Jamie gets a talking Turbo Man doll, the hottest toy of the year, in his Christmas stocking.
But seeing as how Howard is such a heel, Christmas Eve arrives and he still hasn’t bought one. Shops are sold out and plenty of other short-sighted parents, including disgruntled postal worker Myron (Sinbad), go to ever more extreme lengths to grab the coveted toy for their littl’uns.
The first thing that the film does wrong is ensuring that Father Christmas simply does not exist. There are numerous Santas, of course, but they’re all part of an implausible criminal organisation headed up by the wrong Belushi (James, if you’re wondering). For all the kids watching, there’s no magic – only rampant capitalism. On that count, Jingle All The Way fails completely as a Christmas movie. It’s almost unique for a PG film set at this time of year to rule out the bloke in the red suit and the result isn’t pretty.
Having accepted that it’s dead already on that count, let’s look at how the film satirises crass commercialism so well that it’s almost as if it’s terribly crass and commercialised itself. Just as this year’s Jurassic World lampooned its own powers-that-be for pursuit of profits, director Brian Levant and screenwriter Randy Kornfield insistently perch Howard on the verge of realising that there’s more to being a father than getting his kid the toy he wants. But the film constantly doubles back on itself, as the upper middle-class dadzilla tramples over everyone he meets, recklessly breaking the law over and over again and ultimately pitching himself and his son into a life-and-death battle over a piece of plastic. By the end of the movie, he’s come away from the edge altogether and there are no negative consequences to his sociopathic shopping spree.
This was Arnold’s fourth comedy of the 1990s and he dove into it, after the collapse of the long-mooted Planet Of The Apes remake to which he was attached. He’s on similar form to Kindergarten Cop; the film specifically uses his own masculinity against him in a series of slapstick encounters in which he can’t just shoot someone or pull a couple of spines out. He gurns his way through and only really looks capable next to Sinbad – both actors improvised their lines and it shows. Jake Lloyd is very much The Boy Who Would Be Anakin, but he isn’t the worst child actor who ever lived and that shows when he’s clean of the spittle-flecked nerd rage that coated his turn in The Phantom Menace. Still, the combination of Schwarzenegger and Lloyd as father and son isn’t so much wooden as oaken – you may recall that their awkward performance style together was commemorated forever by a brief cutaway in Borat.
Speaking of things you may remember, the late, great Phil Hartman (The Simpsons’ Troy McClure) is the only one who comes out of this smelling like roses. As Ted, the next-door single father – seen as a super-dad by the neighbours, over whom he leches when their husbands are working – he’s a perfectly slimy antagonist. He also achieves legendary status by teeing Arnold up for his one (unlikely) one-liner: “Put that cookie down!”
Ted is secondary to just about everybody else that Howard runs across, though, particularly toy store employees who have the gall to tell him that the biggest selling toy of the year isn’t in stock with one day’s notice. Who among us didn’t cheer when Arnie threatened those no-Turbo-Man-having, Christmas-Eve-working rotters? But that’s how his character behaves throughout, crapping on other parents, their kids and even police officers at any given moment.
Jingle All the Way is a misguided farce and its failures are redoubled by awkward jokes and mawkish holly-jolly intensity. There’s a very good reason why the Governator used this film as a threat to the legislature during his time in office.
As a piece of modern dystopian fiction, the film is a masterpiece, projecting the Buzz Lightyear/Power Rangers fiasco into the shopping mania that has manifested around Black Friday, years ahead of its time. Furthermore, it posits a alienating social hierarchy of workaholic dads, predatory single dads, divorced working class schlubs and downtrodden people who work on Christmas Eve, in which absolutely nobody is in the right and true masculinity is only represented by a plastic superhero. In the current climate, it’s awkward to admit that the best joke in the movie involves a letter bomb, even if it’s flabbergastingly prescient in other regards.
As a Christmas movie, though, it sucks. Put this cookie down.