While there’s some genuine laughs and warm sentimentality to be had, Brian Levant’s Jingle All the Way represents everything that’s bad with Christmas today.
Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a hardworking schmooze of a salesman. He spends so much time on the phone that his wife Liz (Rita Wilson) and son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) are often forgotten in the shuffle. After one screw-up too many, Howard promises his son any Christmas present he’d like as a way to make it up to him. Way to go Howie, show your love with a gift. Like every other child in the film’s world, Jamie wants a Turbo Man super deluxe action figure complete with boomerang action and five – one, two, three, four, five – Turbo Man sayings. And now that it’s Christmas Eve, Turbo Man super deluxe action figures are nowhere to be found except at the center of a mob. Because Howard has to show his love, he goes on a mission to find the toy because, as the movie could easily make you think, love is not shown by an attitude of caring but rather through commercial good.
As much of a fan as I am of Schwarzenegger’s action films from the mid-1980’s through Terminator 2, I also really enjoy his comedies. Let’s face it, we’ve made a joke out of Ah-nuld. Or did he make a joke out of himself? Either way, he’s funny. We know it. He knows it. Schwarzenegger has an oafish charisma about him that allows him to get away with a lot of stuff simply because of his enormous size and his signature mishmash of an accent. Look back to the first time he enters his classroom in Kindergarten Cop. Even his pure action flicks have enough one-liners to go around the office. Ah-nuld is a funny guy and there’s no way around it.
Jingle All the Way is no different. It’s got lots of slapstick with Schwarzenegger running around, tripping over objects, hitting is head and growling like only he can. Unfortunately it’s all far too predictable. But the response to that would be that adults are not the target audience. That’s probably very true, and kids will likely laugh and act out the action bits just as Jamie does in the movie while watching episodes of Turbo Man.
But who would want their children to see something that so openly embraces the idea that Christmas is all about the special gift? And I’m not talking ambiguously or symbolic here either. I’m talking commercialism. Tickle Me Elmo, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Cabbage Patch Kids were all driven by hype. Frankly, all of those toys stunk in the first place. If there’s going to be a run on a toy, why can’t it be Lego or Candy Land? Jingle All the Way makes an argument for consumerism. Although it finishes with the expected sentimental reunion of sorts and an act of goodwill, it’s not genuine.
***SPOILERS AHOY. PROCEED ONLY IF YOU’VE SEEN THIS FILM OR DON’T MIND READING HOW THINGS END.***
After Howard presents Jamie with a Turbo Man figure, the young boy gives it away, stating that he no longer wants it because he has the real thing at home. The implication here is not that Jamie has grown fonder of his father not because he kept his promise finally, but rather that his dad is a toy. Dressed as Turbo Man, Howard has become an action hero. Only problem is that Jamie doesn’t show any indication that he understands the difference between reality and fantasy. From the way it’s presented in the film, Jamie sees his father as the same person he watches and worships on TV. To this end, Jamie loves Turbo Man, not Howard Langston, schmoozing salesman.
This would be easier to swallow had it not been a seasonal film. But in its Christmas setting, Jingle All the Way backs up the notion that the season is all about presents and the insanity that goes into the build-up. Regardless of whether you view Christmas as a religious celebration of birth or a day to spend with family, this is frightening ideology with dire implications.
Jingle All the Way Gallery