Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Film Review: JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996, Brian Levant)

Stars: 2.9 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Tag-line: "Two Dads, One Toy, No Prisoners."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Arnold Schwarzenegger (COMMANDO, PREDATOR), Sinbad (FIRST KID, GOOD BURGER), Phil Hartman (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE), Rita Wilson (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, FRASIER), Robert Conrad (THE WILD WILD WEST, YOUNG DILLINGER), Martin Mull (ROSEANNE, MRS. DOUBTFIRE, O.C. & STIGGS), Jake Lloyd (THE PHANTOM MENACE), James Belushi (THE PRINCIPAL, RED HEAT), Harvey Korman (THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, BLAZING SADDLES), Richard Moll (NIGHT COURT, HOUSE), Yeardley Smith (MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, HERMAN'S HEAD), Curtis Armstrong (BETTER OFF DEAD, RISKY BUSINESS, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, ONE CRAZY SUMMER), Paul Wight (the wrestler known as "The Giant" and "The Big Show").  Written by Randy Kornfield (EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, SWEET REVENGE).  Directed by Brian Levant (BEETHOVEN, PROBLEM CHILD 2, THE FLINTSTONES '94).  Produced by Chris Columbus (HOME ALONE, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING).
Best One-liner:  "WHO TOLD YOU YOU COULD EAT MY COOKIES?!"

JINGLE ALL THE WAY.  A film which lives on in infamy, and perhaps rightfully so; featuring the rubbery facial contortions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the raving line readings of 90s institution and bad-sweater-expert Sinbad; a film which first brought STAR WARS pariah Jake Lloyd to national attention;

a film which combines the lowbrow slapstick of HOME ALONE, the aesthetics of the POWER RANGERS, and the general, ineffable awkwardness of, say, a live action FLINTSTONES movie.  This film truly is a product of its progenitors:  from Brian Levant and Chris Columbus, masters of block-headed 90s comedy and makers of PROBLEM CHILD 2, THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS, SNOW DOGS, and THE NEW LEAVE IT TO BEAVER....  and, well, what did you expect?


Except it's sort of...how do I put this?... it's... not that bad.  And yet it is.  It exists in a phantom dimension of film-logic, an indescribable plane where quality becomes meaningless, where we accept that something like this can and does, in fact, exist.  It's the variety of film that induces throughout the thought that (THIS IS TERRIBLE! TERRIBLE!) and yet, as the end credits roll, you're left with the sense that yes, not only could it have been a lot worse, but that you genuinely enjoyed it.  Chalk it up to bad nog, the magic of the holidays, or the irresistible pull of Schwarzenegger doing his best impersonation of a living cartoon... it's a minor Christmas classic.

Not quite on part with, say, your DIE HARD or your BATMAN RETURNS or your GREMLINS, but I think we can still find a place under the tree for it, maybe way in the back next to the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, CHRISTMAS EVIL, and JAWS: THE REVENGE.

And now, ten reasons why JINGLE ALL THE WAY is not quite so shameful and ignominious as to ruin Christmas:

10.  Let's just get this one out of the way.  Whether you caught JINGLE ALL THE WAY on its original theatrical run or on cable or if you've been crank-called by the Arnold Schwarzenegger soundboard, you undoubtedly know and love the sheer, unadulterated beauty of "PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN!  NOW!"
 
 
 

 9.  The team from Walter Hill's RED HEAT, reunited– Schwarzenegger and Belushi, together again!

Jim (he's only James in dramatic roles) shows up as a surly, underworld Santa with a warehouse of bootleg toys and an army of criminal Kris Kringles.

8.  The ensuing Santa Claus brawl, complete with candy cane nunchucks,

Arnie beating Santas with an oversized candy cane yard decoration, and an enormous berserker Santa (played by Paul Wight– the WCW's "The Giant" and the WWE's "The Big Show") who uses one-liners like "I'm gonna deck your halls, bub!"


7.  A (sort of) earnest attempt at an anti-consumerist message.
 JINGLE ALL THE WAY obviously focuses on last-minute holiday shopping and the diabolical marketing of the much-hyped "Big Toy" of the season, and though it never really aims any higher than slapstick, it still possesses a certain "ripped from the headlines" quality, what with the tramplings,
 
the macings,
 
and human beings acting like complete lunatics in the hopes of snagging overpriced, mass-produced rubbish.

Though, likely afraid of offending manufacturers or (gasp!) appearing even as mildly socialist as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the film undermines itself at several points.  For example, it places most of the anti-corporate polemic in the mouth of Sinbad, who raves maniacally and (dis)qualifies his statements with gems like "and I know what I'm talking about because I went to Junior College."  Furthermore, the idea that Turbo Man dolls were (and still are, I guess) actually sold subverts the ultimate, "family is better than consumer products" message of the film.  Ah, well.

6.  A nice bit by Chris Parnell (best known for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but in my mind, made a legend by his recurring role as "Dr. Spaceman" on 30 ROCK) as a gleefully derisive toy store clerk.


5.  In the tradition of such Arnie classics as COMMANDO and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, JINGLE ALL THE WAY sets an action sequence at a mall.


4.  And said action sequence culminates in Arnie stalking a bouncing superball all the way into a kiddie pit:

where his quasi-pedophilic countenance inspires mothers to beat him with their purses and bellow "Pervert!" in accusatory tones.

"IAHM NAAT A PUUHVERT."

3.  Schwarenegger cold-cocking an (animatronic) reindeer, which is just the sort of thing that probably wouldn't fly today.


 




2.  The brief appearance of 80s comedy standby and Cusack crony Curtis Armstrong as "Booster,"
 
the supremely hateable pink sabre-tooth tiger partner of Turbo-Man, who receives his wonderful, albeit completely undeserved comeuppance at the hands of sidekick-hating children.
 


1.  Which leads me to the final Christmas parade set-piece, featuring Phil Morris and Amy Pietz as pitch-perfect, Christopher Guest-ian local parade hosts,


 a ridiculous police float featuring a nutty, breakdancing trampoline cop (pictured: far left) worthy of being in the background of a Cannon Film,

and finally, the coup de grace– Arnie's turn as "Turbo-Man," played with a rubbery and childlike intensity

that reveals Schwarzenegger to be the biggest kid of all.  It is unclear if this is an acting choice or something inherent to his personality, but I think we all know the answer to that one.

Nearly three stars.

MAHHRRY CHRISSSMAS!

–Sean Gill

2 comments:

John Guedes said...

Jingle All The Way! I was actually considering watching this during the holiday season but opted for Jack Frost instead. Something about Michael Keaton as Frosty the Snowman just sang to me. But both films definitely exist in that bottom-shelf, plastic liquor bottle region of holiday movies. Just enough charm to keep you watching, too darn silly to warrant a second helping.

Sean Gill said...

John,

I made the mistake/wonderful holiday decision to opt for JINGLE ALL THE WAY and JACK FROST. Granted, I was in no state to be taking notes for a review when I watched the latter, but I must say that undead-CGI-snowboarding-snowman-Michael-Keaton ranks high on the list of things I never expected to see in a movie. "Plastic liquor bottle shelf" is a good way to put it!