We all remember aching for the must-have toys of the season from our childhood. For me, the year was 1986. There sat Teddy Ruxpin, hidden behind a plastic window in his cardboard box, waiting for my parents to pluck him off the shelf and bring him home. And they did, without incident. Maybe there were moms and dads who battled it out at K-Mart for a talking bear or a Cabbage Patch Kid or a Fraggle Rock plush, but it wasn’t until the Tickle-Me-Elmo craze in the mid-1990s that I became aware of how far people will go to get their hands on a mass marketed piece of fuzz.
Jingle All the Way merely reflects that insanity, which has resulted in arrest, injury, and death. So when overworked salesman Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) goes to the mat for a Turbo-Man action figure for his son (Jake Lloyd), you don’t doubt that most of his stunts have been tried before. The toy, which looks like an Iron Man prototype with its versatile armored suit and jetpack, is all but sold out for the holidays. That doesn’t stop Howard from scrambling to get one though, and he soon finds himself going tête-à-tête with Myron (Sinbad), a postal worker and single father who also needs a Turbo-Man to earn points with his son.
The movie is a merry-go-round of adults behaving badly. An initial failed attempt leads Howard and Myron to ever more desperate and ludicrous situations. There’s a brawl with a gang of counterfeit-toy-making Santas, threats of a mail bomb, and a narrow escape from a rabid reindeer. But there are only so many near successes before the whole charade gets repetitive. When the action stops going in circles, the movie reveals glimmers of a familiar Christmas tale.
Howard thinks that buying a Turbo-Man to please his son will make-up for his recent absence. It’s easy to see what his family really wants from him is not some overpriced piece of plastic but time. The frenzied chase buries these warm feelings though; after all, you kind of want Howard to get the toy. That doesn’t make any of us complicit in the crass consumerism this film has been accused of, but it does shift some focus away from what could have been much more enjoyable story and performances. Phil Hartman has the best role but too little screen time as Howard’s seemingly perfect yet womanizing neighbor. Rita Wilson is also sadly relegated to the steadfast wife part and isn’t given much character. Still, she adds a human touch to Schwarzenegger’s often robotic acting. My main takeaway from this film, which is almost 20 years old, however, is not about kids and materialism. Rather, it’s the adults and their iPhones that Jingle All the Way seems to mirror.
Prod: Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Mark Radcliffe
Dir: Brian Levant
Writer: Randy Kornfield
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Robert Conrad, Martin Mull, Jim Belushi
Time: 89 min
Country: United States