Sunday, July 25, 2010

Christmas in July: Jingle All the Way (1996)

There are tons of cynical, lazy Christmas movies churned out every year by Hollywood (and at least double that many if you include TV movies), and most of them are completely forgotten by the time they reach DVD. They have nothing to add to the overall holiday tradition, and little in the way of fans or supporters. I didn't really consider writing about movies like Four Christmases or Christmas With the Kranks for this project because I don't think anyone, even the people who made them, cares about them. Jingle All the Way falls into that same category in that it's completely cynical, practically machine-crafted and unpleasant to watch. But it's become a sort of camp classic by being awful in so many more ways, thanks mostly to sticking Arnold Schwarzenegger as the star of a lazy Christmas cash-in. Those other movies are just a waste of your time; Jingle All the Way may be the worst Christmas movie ever made.

It's alarming how blatantly jaded this movie is about Christmas, but not in a satirical or skeptical way. The filmmakers just take it as a given that Christmas is about nothing more than frenzied consumerism, that the measure of how good a man is as a husband and father is his ability to track down the right presents for his family members. Although there are nods to lessons about slowing down and spending more time with family, and even a tiny bit of selflessness, at heart the movie's message is: If you don't get your kid that hot action figure he wants, you are a failure as a human being. And since that's the driving moral force behind the actions of the main characters, the entire movie is a dispiriting journey with reprehensible people.

It's made even worse by the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role as the suburban workaholic dad who forgot to get his son the action figure he wants and must hunt one down on Christmas Eve. You can practically smell the desperation coming off of Schwarzenegger in each scene as he strains himself to create some approximation of humor and empathy. Had this movie starred, say, Tim Allen or Jim Belushi (who shows up in a supporting role as a department-store Santa moving stolen goods), it might have remained among the ranks of the forgettable. But Schwarzenegger's mind-bogglingly awful performance puts Jingle All the Way at a whole other level, as he imbues such innocuous lines as "Who told you you could eat my cookies?" with such weird alien forcefulness that they become existential cries in the dark. Not to mention the fact that he looks ready to snap for the entire film, and you keep waiting for him to break out a machine gun and slaughter everyone in sight.

That would probably have made for a better movie, but the filmmakers contrive an action climax for Schwarzenegger anyway, in which he ends up donning the costume of his son's favorite superhero (the star of a Power Rangers-like TV show) and battling a crazed mailman played by Sinbad during a holiday parade. It takes the movie from unbelievable into some bizarre alternate universe, thanks not only to the insane flying stunts but also to the fact that Schwarzenegger's kid (played by annoying Jake Lloyd of The Phantom Menace) doesn't recognize his dad in the superhero outfit even though he speaks like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Jingle All the Way presents some sort of twisted consumerist dystopia and calls it holiday cheer, and tries to sell an emotionless slab of muscle as a loving Midwestern dad. It's misguided in so many ways that it's kind of amazing, and while every moment of it is painful to watch, I doubt I'll ever forget the experience.

The True Meaning of Christmas: You better get that fucking toy.


Hampers said...

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Anonymous said...

Though you are right about the consumerism, that was more secondary. What I saw was a dad who was willing to go through hell and back for his kid, though sometimes the stress of the situation caused tension between them. And on a side note, Ted needed to be punched in the neck and neutered. And in using Schwarzenegger they gave a face to what all last-minute Christmas shoppers don't have the balls to express... their overwhelming rage with the lack of supply for the massive demand. And besides the whole bomb thing was funny as hell. But I do love your moral. Better get that fucking toy! Priceless... best thing ever!