Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?
With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.
For children, Christmas can be an annual excuse to reel in the latest and greatest in video games and toy sets. For parents, Christmas can be a real bitch on the family wallet. Picture a father struggling to regain the approval of his young son through a frantic citywide search for the hottest new toy, the rocket-powered crime fighter Turbo-Man. Now, imagine that dad is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jingle All the Way primes Schwarzenegger as upper middle-class family man Howard Langston, who (as seems commonplace in Christmas films) too easily misses quality time with son Jamie (Jake Lloyd). A speedy car drive to Jamie’s karate demonstration lands Howard a cool ticket from an ornery motorcycle cop and the scorn of his wife Liz (Rita Wilson). And while tempered reprimands might feel laughable to Schwarzenegger’s action persona, Jingle All the Way enjoys putting its burly, brawny hero into familiar, middle-class milieu.
The favorite show of both Jamie and virtually every young boy in America, Turbo-Man resembles a cheap Power Rangers send-up, pitting colorful goons against its costumed, jet pack-sporting hero and his pink, oversized wombat of a sidekick, Booster. As a faux property, Turbo-Man ain’t bad, and even sparing details on the TV hero’s archnemesis Dementor offer plausible context for every eight year-old’s Christmas obsession. When Howard attempts to regain Jamie’s trust with the promise of a brand new Turbo-Man doll for Christmas (a promise he’d unknowingly made weeks earlier to Liz), his late-minute shopping jag is just one of thousands in the Twin Cities area with a flurry of ravenous shoppers all searching for the same sold-out product. That commercial frenzy is punctuated by loudmouth delivery man Myron Larabee (Sinbad). At first bonding over the same toy that has them pulling their hair out, the Myron and Howard quickly differentiate one another in their shopping tactics. Myron feigns friendship but fights dirty, tripping shoppers and using his messenger bag as a nondescript wrecking ball — Myron even makes threats with packaged “bombs” he’s intercepted in the mail. The physical humor isn’t particularly inspired, but Myron’s slapstick gives a satisfying flavor to Howard’s frustrations, especially considering how easily Arnold could whoop Sinbad’s rear end six minutes to Sunday.
The materialistic scramble that makes up most of Jingle All the Way, might feel overly cynical and more than a little depressing were it not for all the camp. There’s nothing endearing to be found in America’s ugly “Black Friday” tendencies, but circumstances are heightened to comical levels, deflected off a reliable tough guy at its warm gooey center. Howard finds comfort in putting “his star” atop the Christmas tree or taking the family to the annual “Wintertainment Parade,” but he can still throw a mean right hook when it’s required. In his desperation, Howard follows Jim Belushi’s crude black market Santa (credited here as the prestigious “James Belushi”) to the Nicollet Island Grainery, a front for an underground gift racket run by an army of shady Kris Kringles. When Howard drops $300 on a “new” Spanish language Turbo-Man doll, fists begins to fly at the prospect of a refund, and Santas pile on Howard en masse. From a nunchaku-sporting ninja Santa to a giant-sized Saint Nick punching Verne Troyer’s fun-sized clone clear across the room, it’s a cheesy set piece made tolerable by Arnold’s bulging eyes and capable mugging. This may be a forgotten Christmas comedy, and not a great one at that, but 1996 has seen Arnold come a long way since his mute days as Hercules and the T-800.
Director Brian Levant understands the kind of actor he’s got on his hands, too, and circumstances would be far from ironic were Howard not an unassuming male adonis. At one point, obnoxious neighbor and serial wife-stealer Ted (played with ham and disdain by the never not excellent Phil Hartman) mentions that Howard “can’t bench press his way” out of disappointing his family. While that may be true, he can still can fly his way back into their hearts. The climactic “Wintertainment” Parade features an inevitable showdown between Howard and the pesky Myron, with both getting duped into unwittingly performing for the Turbo-Man float in their search for the doll. Zipping and zooming on a poorly-tested jetpack, Howard dons the Turbo-suit and instantly embodies his action persona of titles prior. (actually, Schwarzenegger seems far more comfortable in orange latex than the generic actor seen on the film’s faux TV show.) It’s little surprise that when Howard finally delivers Jamie a special edition Turbo-Man doll in front of thousands of bystanders, Jamie graciously gives it to a defeated Myron (dressed of course, as the dastardly Dementor). He doesn’t need a toy when he’s got a real hero dad at home. On the surface, one cartoony set piece shouldn’t make Howard any better a father, but Jamie may not know just how right he is.
Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)
Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)