REVIEW: Jingle All the Way

’Tis the season, they say.  The season for me and my wife to put up our little artificial Christmas tree and all of its decorations.  The season to receive thoughtful cards in the mail, and the season to get giddy about both the giving and receiving of gifts.  If you are like me, ’tis also the season for pressing play on classic holiday films, and, in this case, unfortunate holiday films.

In 1996, the year that Jingle All the Way came out, my cinematic hero Arnold Schwarzenegger had been in the midst of a run of movies that fluctuated in terms of quality.  After Terminator 2 in 1991, he was in the poorly received Last Action Hero (a movie that I ended up enjoying after Christopher Spicer convinced me to give it another shot and view it as a parody of action films).  A year later, he redeemed himself in my eyes with James Cameron’s True Lies.  And then it was Junior, where he got pregnant.  And then Eraser, a movie where I cannot recall a single plot point.  As far as I was concerned with Jingle All the Way, I would never watch it.  I was done with being disappointed by the actor I once idolized.

However, around a year ago, a good friend and long time listener of The Movie Breakdown podcast embarked on a multi-pronged campaign to get me to watch Jingle All the Way.  I refused at the time, but found myself unable to keep away from it this holiday season.  At a time of year when I know I should be devoted to tracking down the best films of 2021, I hit ‘play’ on a twenty five year old movie. I now regret that decision immensely.

The film follows Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger), who is one of the worst non-abusive father/husband that you could get.  Instead of paying attention to his family and being there for them, he would much rather sell mattresses.  Langston flat out lies to his wife, and figures that it is easier to buy his son’s love than to actually give a darn.  You see, it’s Christmas time, and his son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) wants a Turbo Man action figure.  They say everyone has a price, and getting a Turbo Man would be enough for his son to love him again after Howard repeatedly doesn’t show any real signs of caring.  Yes, this special holiday film is about bribing the ones closest to us.

As always, Schwarzenegger is charismatic.  If there are people out there who don’t understand how this muscle bound hulk of an individual had such an impressive career, they haven’t seen enough of his films.  His very first film, Hercules in New York, may be considered awful, but it is a fun display of the charm that Arnold can wield.  As Langston, he is trying hard to get as much energy into the character as he can.  Unfortunately, he is working with a miserable script where miserable people are all over the place and violence (or the threat of) are all of the movie’s jokes.

In his search for a Turbo Man, which is the hot new toy of the year and in short supply, he crosses paths with mailman Myron Larabee (Sinbad). Sinbad may have never been my favourite comedian, but I never found him as unfunny as in this performance.  Most of what he does is rant, and at the completion of his first rant he strangles a random woman.  This is the joke.  Strangling a random woman is the joke.  

As the day progresses, the paths of Howard and Myron cross numerous times as they both try and get the coveted Turbo Man action figure, culminating in a scene where it kind of seems like Myron wants to murder Jamie Langston.  That’s the joke.  An adult chasing down and seemingly wanting to kill a child over a toy is the joke.  I won’t go into all of the ‘jokes’ right now, because it would be an intimidating paragraph to read because of sheer size.  I will do that after the review is done.

An odd side plot is that Howard’s wife Liz (Rita Wilson) is constantly being hit on by neighbour Ted Matlin (Phil Hartman, who sadly passed away way too soon).  I suppose the joke here is that this guy is sleazy and just wants into the pants of every mother in the area.  Liz isn’t up for any of this, so obviously it’s hilarious when he keeps pursuing her in the creepiest ways.  

Not one single ‘joke’ in this film made me laugh, and I was consistently blown away by how mean this script is.  The level of violence is incredible and tone def.  I have a feeling that director Brian Levant had seen Home Alone and thought that its success was down to its physical humour, and not the audience being charmed by a young boy who starts off as a horrible person but then has a touching story arc where he realizes the importance of family.  This film’s family message is that you can lie and not care about your family if in the end you try and bribe them.  

When the final credits roll, Howard hasn’t become a better person.  He still lied to his wife, he still was the guy that cared more about mattresses than he did his son.  I guess he tells them it won’t happen again, but I’m pretty sure that empty promise was also given to them at the start of the film.  At the end of the credits, there is a scene where we see that he has completely forgotten to get anything for his wife for Christmas.  Our hero hasn’t changed, and still doesn’t seem to care much for his family.

There are so many wonderful holiday films out there.  There are also a lot of really bad ones.  While Jingle All the Way may not be the worst one you could see, it’s not worth watching.  The level of failure of its ‘jokes’ is incredible, as the movie really thinks that people getting hurt is beyond hilarious.  If you want good recommendations for something Christmas themed to watch, you can check out our podcast episode, The Breakdown of Our Favourite Holiday Movies.  There are some classics that will satisfy your urges for good Christmas story telling, each of them movies that will steer you clear of Jingle All the Way.

Star Rating - 1 out of 4 stars.

Now, I had mentioned that I would go a little deeper into the amount of violent ‘jokes’ in this film, so here they are.  These are just the ones that I remember.  There are many more than just these:

A man strangling a random woman in a crowd after ranting about toys or something or whatever.  

A crowd of last minute holiday shoppers stampeding over the fallen body of a store employee.  

Many, many people getting tackled and sent crashing to the floor or through product displays.  

Howard getting sprayed point blank in the face with mace by Myron the post man.  

Howard forcefully grabbing a child by the mouth in a ball pit.  

Women then assaulting Howard with their purses in a lynching because they rightly see him as a danger to their children’s safety (justified).  

A man threatening a child.  

Howard beating up multiple Santas.  

A gigantic Santa punching a little person in the face, sending the littler person flying through the air.  Concussions and broken noses are hilarious, am I right?  

Myron threatening to blow people up with a bomb multiple times.  

A bomb exploding while a police officer is holding it.  

Howard and Myron both teaming up, about to severely assault a radio DJ because he had a gift certificate for a Turbo Man doll to give away, and not the actual toy.  

Punching a reindeer in the face, knocking it out.  Then sharing a beer with the deer after it recovers.  

Liz slugging creeper Ted in the head with a thermos (justified).  

Punching a mascot so hard it flies off a Christmas float.  Children violently lynching said mascot.  Hilarious.  

Man accosting a child (this seems to happen a number of times).  Child kicking said man in the balls (justified).  

Beating up participants in a parade.  

A grown man unrelentingly chasing down a child, saying things like, “I got you kid,” and “end of the line.”  

A grown man trying to steal a toy from a child who is hanging high above the street, about to possibly fall to their death.  

Throwing a boomerang to make someone fall from the top of a building.  That’s all I remember.  Sadly, there are many more to be found in this film.