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Jingle All The Way (1996)

Directed by Brian Levant

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson & Jake Lloyd

Christmas film review by Chris Olson

For many parents, Christmas time is a hazardous occasion where they must balance the inevitable excitement of their offspring, with the fickle reality they have come to know which will inevitably remove their child’s innocence. Shielding your kids from the harshness of life is just one of the spinning plates in a crockery nightmare-to-come, and making sure you are seen as a hero in your child’s eyes at Christmas very often comes down to getting the perfect gift!

In this throwback gem from the early 90s, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays one such dad, Howard, who has been neglecting his wife (Rita Wilson) and son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) in the run up to Christmas, busying himself with work. After missing Jamie’s karate graduation, Howard vows to make it up to his son by making sure he buys him a Turbo Doll - a popular action figure from a cheesy television show. Naïve to the predicament Howard finds himself in (looking for a sold-out toy on Christmas Eve), our hero-dad must plunge face first into a retail hell, filled with psychopathic shoppers and greedy toy-making cartels.

Christmas is a time for forgiveness, and if you can forgive the achingly poor script and bizarre characterisation, there is still a lot wrong with Jingle All the Way. That being said, there is also a nostalgic charm to the movie, not least in seeing Schwarzenegger throwing down calamity everywhere he goes; tackling toddlers for bingo balls or five-knuckle-sandwiching a Santa are just some of his Yuletide antics. There is also an enjoyable pace which is laid down early on by the Christmas Eve deadline, and kept steady throughout the duration. Scenes of comic capering are done with gleeful childishness, never taking themselves too seriously, and delivering plenty of spectacle - such as Howard also five-knuckle-sandwiching a reindeer (and then drinking beer with said festive horse).

There was a formula to movies of this time which worked very well, family films which rarely disappointed audiences because they knew that a big action star, some slapstick comedy and plenty of hokey themes would inevitably land them solid home entertainment sales. Jingle All The Way is a solid example of this formula, and whilst you can easily argue this is a terrible movie, there is still something strangely hypnotic about its appeal. Seeing Arnie totally absorb himself into his character, regardless of how silly he looks, and spewing up stomach-churning family sentiment, is something everyone needs to see at least once! There is also the enjoyable subplot of Ned (Phil Hartman) the neighbour, whose sexual advances on Howard’s wife and holier-than-thou drivel is incensing yet hilarious.

Christmas film reviews

Decisively lacking in terms of artistic quality or originality, Brian Levant’s film is built on a foundation of solid ingredients rather than a Heston-style Christmas sophistication. Jingle All The Way is your cheap-and-cheerful advent calendar that you demand comes out every year, and yet you are totally sick of it by the end.

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