I’ve always been pretty open about my feelings regarding the Christmas season. Basically, as a Jewish person growing up in a town that was over 90% Christian, the period of time from after Thanksgiving until mid-January contained constant reminders that something great was going on, yet it was not for me. Every song on the radio, every show on TV, every store in every city carried signs and themes that reflected the season, and proved to me that I was different. And, since you too lived through your adolescence, where being different was akin to being a leper, you can perhaps imagine why to this day I still carry with me a healthy disregard for everything red and green.
In recent years, my utter antipathy toward Christmas has abated a great deal, due no doubt to my suddenly and unexpectedly finding myself flush with my own Christmas traditions (due themselves to in-laws and step-parents). In fact, 2006 was the mildest yet for holiday rage. I was pretty chilled out the entire time, only losing my cool once or twice (in each case, caused by hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” one too many times. Seriously people, am I the only one who can tell that this song blows?). Things were so good this year that, when a Christmas movie came on TV, I decided to sit down and check it out.
The movie? Jingle all the Way, starring Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sinbad. The verdict? This was one of the worst movies I have EVER seen!
The plot is simplistic even by family comedy standards. Arnold Schwartzenegger is a dad whose career often gets in the way of his family, most notably his impeccably adorable son. After he fails to watch his kid achieve blue belt in his karate class, the boy is very angry. Desperate to make amends, Arnold promises to get him whatever he wants for Christmas, which turns out to be a Turbo Man action figure. Arnold promises, and harmony is restored…
…at least until Christmas Eve day! It turns out that, not only has Arnold forgotten the promise he made to his son to buy this toy, but he has also forgotten that his wife had asked him to buy it weeks ago! What he doesn’t know is that the Turbo Man action figure is the most popular toy in the history of Christmas, and getting one on Christmas Eve day will be completely impossible.
Arnold rushes out to the toy store, but not before promising his son to show up for the parade that day, which the boy is excited about because of an appearance by…Turbo Man! When Arnold arrives, he finds a mob scene of anxious parents awaiting the store’s opening, including Sinbad as a wacky mailman also looking for the Turbo Man doll. The doors finally open, causing a STAMPEDE of parents into the store! Arnold gets in, but there are no Turbo Mans left. When he asks a store employee (played by pre-SNL Chris Parnell) for help, he is told that the last doll was just sold off of lay-away, and has left the store. Sinbad whacks Arnold with his mailbag (ha!) and takes off, but Arnold uses a remote-control car to trip Sinbad and make him fall (Double ha!). And thus, the race is on.
Arnold’s trip outside the store allows him to overhear that a shipment of the dolls has hit the mall. That store is using bouncy balls with numbers on them as a sort of lottery. Arnold’s ball gets away from him, and as he chases it through the mall, he sees a young kid grab it. He stalks the kid into a playground ball pit, and attempts to steal it, but mothers whack him with their purses until he lets go. The mall Santa (James Belushi!!) sees this, and offers Arnold one extra Turbo Man Doll that he and his elf associate have back at their headquarters. Arnold agrees.
Arnold soon finds himself in a large warehouse filled with Santas and elves. He is given a doll for the usurious price of $300, but when he opens the wrapped box to make sure it contains what it’s supposed to contain, he finds a broken, SPANISH SPEAKING doll. Outraged, he shouts insults at the Santa, which causes all the other Santas to attack. The result is a hilarious Elves-and-Santas-on-Arnold melee, which continues until the police arrive to arrest everyone for their toy-racketeering operation.
Dejected, Arnold goes to a diner for some coffee, where he runs into Sinbad once again. While there, they hear a radio DJ offer a free Turbo Man doll to the first person who can answer his Christmas Trivia Question: What are the names of Santa’s eight reindeer? Arnold knows, and runs into the pay phone booth. He fights off Sinbad’s attempts to steal the receiver away, but just as he’s about to give the answer, Sinbad rips the cord out of the phone, foiling the attempt. As they’re about to come to blows, the diner cook reveals that the radio station is right down the street; if they hurry, they can give the answer in person!
Arnold and Sinbad now race each other toward the station, each chanting the reindeer names. When the arrive, they are out of breath and raving, so the DJ (Martin Mull!!) is understandably a bit freaked out, and thus calls security. Arnold states his case for the doll, but not to be outdone, Sinbad takes a package out of his mail sack, and tells them that it’s a BOMB! (He’s a mailman, he explains, and thus has seen so many mail bombs that he can identify them on sight). Arnold and the DJ are scared, and it seems as though Sinbad will win after all. However, Arnold tackles Sinbad, and sends the package flying. They brace for an explosion, but you know what? It WASN’T A BOMB! It was a music box! Sinbad LIED! Arnold shows his disgust, and once again turns to claim his prize, but the DJ reveals that he never said he had a DOLL, just that the person with the correct answer would RECEIVE one; he has a gift certificate! Arnold and Sinbad proceed to wreck the place, until the cops show up. As a swarm of armed cops surround the men, Sinbad ONCE AGAIN takes out a mail bomb, and threatens everyone. The cops all drop their guns, and in the ensuing chaos, both Arnold and Sinbad escape.
(Hilarious note about the bomb: Once the cops are alone, the head cop (an older guy who keeps trying to arrest Arnold throughout the movie) approaches the package, and assures the men that, after ten years on the bomb squad, he can tell that the package is harmless. He opens it…and IT EXPLODES! We KNEW that Sinbad was bluffing, but in this case, he was RIGHT!)
(Consoling note about the aforementioned hilarious note about the bomb: Don’t worry, no one was harmed in the explosion. When we see them again, the radio station is destroyed, with soot and wires everywhere, but the head cop is merely charred like Wile E Coyote after an Acme device malfunctions. RELAX.)
At this point (or maybe not; the continuity is as pointless as everything else), Arnold admits defeat, and goes home. But, as he approaches his front door, he sees…Phil Hartman! (I guess I should explain. Apparently, Phil Hartman is a divorcee who has become the perfect father to his son. As a result, every mom in the neighborhood desperately wants to bone him. However, we soon learn that he is actually after Arnold’s wife.) Arnold thinks about going in to his house and kicking Phil Hartman’s ass, but he then remembers Phil Hartman telling him earlier that day that HIS Turbo Man doll was wrapped up under his tree for his son.
Arnold breaks into Phil Hartman’s house, and steals the doll from under the tree. As he is sneaking out of the house, however, he realizes that he can’t go through with the crime. He turns around, but the evil reindeer is waiting for him! (Oh, right. Phil Hartman rented a reindeer for Christmas Eve, as a gift to his son, and…never mind.) The reindeer chases Arnold through Phil Hartman’s house, the result of which is a trashed house, and Arnold getting BUSTED. His wife is angry at him, his son is also angry at him, and as Phil Hartman leaves to drive Arnold’s family to the parade (remember the parade?), he says to Arnold, “You can’t bench press your way out of this.” Ouch.
Arnold takes a cab to the parade (I can’t remember why) but gets frustrated when the streets are jammed up due to…the parade. He gets out and runs, and either because he sees Phil Hartman stroking his wife’s hair, or he is running from the evil old man cop, he ducks into a building…where he is immediately grabbed by a guy with a headset who upbraids him for being late. As he is dragged along without knowing what’s happening (though the viewers know from the first frame) the man in the headset thanks him for filling in at the last minute when the first guy was injured, then tells him technical details about his costume. By the time he looks at himself again…he’s PREGNANT! No, sorry, that’s another shitty Arnold comedy. I meant to say…he’s TURBO MAN!
Suddenly, our downtrodden hero is sitting atop a float at the very parade his son wanted him to attend! And he’s dressed as the most popular hero of all time! With everyone cheering and Arnold waving, the parade announcers tell everyone that Turbo Man is going to pick one lucky child to win a Turbo Man doll. Gleefully, Arnold picks his son, who climbs up the float to collect his bounty…
But WAIT! Sinbad has somehow cold-cocked the actor set to play Turbo Man’s enemy in the little staged show, and leaps down onto the float. He grabs Arnold’s son, and attempts to steal the doll away too! Just as all seems lost, Arnold realizes that the suit he is wearing is not just a costume, but an actual working replica of Turbo Man’s super armor! He begins hurling projectiles at Sinbad until he lets go of his son. Arnold prepares to give Sinbad a final beatdown, but some other bad guys come out of the float and jump on him! They are just part of the act, but Sinbad uses the diversion to once again go after Arnold’s son. The boy runs up a huge scaffolding, only to be followed by Sinbad, who was unmolested since everyone including the cops assumed it was part of the act. Arnold uses his battle-rang to keep Sinbad at bay, and then turns on his turbo jet pack to save his son from falling to his death. Sinbad, of course, falls onto a float, and is arrested by the evil old man cop from before. Order is restored!
Arnold (as Turbo Man) delivers his son back to the boy’s mother (his wife, who has rebuffed Phil Hartman by hurling a drink in his face). They boy has had the time of his life, but all at once reveals in a simply adorable monologue that the whole event is ruined since his father was not there to see it. Arnold (as Turbo Man) tells the boy that he’s sure his father loves him very much. The boy, shocked that Turbo Man would know so much about him and his family, asks him how he could know that. The moment of truth arrives, and Arnold lifts his mask to reveal himself to his son! The boy is ecstatic! The mom gives him a “SOMEone’s getting lucky tonight (and it’s not Phil Hartman!) look! The crowd erupts into applause. Everything is wonderful.
…but not quite. In a surprise move, Arnold’s son approaches Sinbad, who has terrorized Arnold all day long and just recently tried to kidnap and/or kill the kid himself, and gives him the Turbo Man doll! He says that Sinbad must really love his son to try so hard to get it for him, and he deserves a good Christmas too. When the mom asks him why he did that, he reveals that he doesn’t need a doll, when he “has the real thing at home.” Credits roll.
Now, there are simply too many things that are awful about this movie for me to possibly mention them all here. Therefore, here are the top five stupidest/most asinine/least redeeming things, in descending order:
5. Phil Hartman as an object of lust for women everywhere – EVEN if you could somehow pretend that this was plausible…HOW could you POSSIBLY believe that he would set his sights on Arnold Schwartzenegger’s wife? Arnold might be middle-aged here, and he might be right smack in the middle of his “family comedy” persona, but he’s still FUCKING HUGE! In the real world, that woman would be as safe from unwelcome advances as an ugly nurse in the castration ward.
4. The Reindeer – I don’t know when this particular trend started, but I think I’ll place the blame on Caddyshack. I’m talking about using puppets/animatronics/live animals to create “funny” characters from the animal kingdom. Let’s be honest here: even if you LOVE Caddyshack, that gopher shit makes you cringe today. Even if you CAN’T be honest with me about that, then imagine showing that film to your son in fifteen years. Is he laughing when that rodent starts dancing, or looking at you like you just attempted to put his scrotum in a C-clamp? The reindeer in Jingle All the Way continues this shameful tradition. When he’s first introduced (with that utterly ridiculous pretense of Phil Hartman renting him for the day to make his son’s Christmas (eve day) extra special), he snaps at Arnold, and Phil Hartman reveals that reindeer typically like people. That plotline is now completely transparent, from start to finish, from this point forward. The only thing that can be called in any way unexpected is when Arnold actually punches it and knocks it unconscious (laughing yet?) This is also, ironically, the only moment in the whole movie that makes even an iota of sense.
3. That Turbo Man Costume – No matter how shitty the movie had been up to that point, I had no way of knowing that it would soon devolve into green-screened shots of Arnold “flying” to save his son from “falling.” I just could not imagine that the filmmakers would do something so utterly inane. I’m pretty sure that, if jetpacks have been invented yet, a person would have to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of flying and aeronautics before he’d be allowed into one. I’m ALSO pretty sure that such a suit would either be quite heavy, or extremely radioactive, to make it as fast as Arnold’s was. Add to that the notion that the costume makers could then find a way to include Turbo Man’s weapons, which actually WORK, and you have yourself a recipe for utter nonsense. (Bonus ass points for forcing the viewer to suspend disbelief enough to think that Arnold’s wife and son would not be able to tell that it was really him underneath the mask, despite the entire bottom half of his face fully visible, the top half of his face obscured by only a visor, and the fact that his real voice was heard (and amplified through microphones) the entire time.
2. Basing a Holiday Movie on a Toy – Am I completely naïve, or do people every year give monologues about how commercial the season has become, and how it’s important for people to remember “the true meaning of Christmas?” When making a movie about the holiday (or at the very least picking one to see with your family), shouldn’t you be looking for one that ends up focusing on the people you love, rather than anything else that might happen? Isn’t the best result from a movie like this you could hope for a group hug or something? Instead, this movie was all about buying a toy. Not only that, he was buying this toy so his son would no longer be mad at him for always being absent when it counted. Arnold spends the entire movie destroying things in an effort to buy his son’s love. That might be the most abhorrent movie message I’ve seen in a long time, which makes it just about the most awful part of this movie. The only thing that tops this aspect of the film, in terms of pure jaw-dropping unbelievability, is
1. Arnold’s Son Gives up the Doll at the End – Maybe a kid in a truly functional family would do this, but with a dad who does everything he can to purchase his son’s affections as a substitute for having to have any role in his life, there is NO WAY that kid would be able to keep his hands off that doll. He’d be more likely to shit in Sinbad’s hands, and tell him to fashion a Turdo Man out of it. Sorry, but Psychology 101 says I’m right on this.
So that was my first Christmas movie experience. I have no basis for comparison, but if this is a typical example of holiday movie fare, I have to say that I might actually be better off on the outside. I might not belong, but at least I won’t have the awful feeling in my stomach that I did after watching this movie.
See that? I’m even more at peace with Christmas than I was before. Maybe something good can come from anything. And at the end, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?