Junkfood Cinema: Jingle All the Way

By  · Published on December 25th, 2009

Happy Holidays from all of me here at Junkfood Cinema. I’m sure by now you are aptly stuffing your collective faces with enough chestnuts, sugarplums, and candy canes to ensure a post-holiday, diabetic coma…I know I am. And if you are anything like me, you are avoiding fruitcake like grim death; keep your healthy propaganda out of my delicious cake dagnabit! Being that Christmas Day falls perfectly on a Friday this year, the junkfood-iest day of the week, I could not pass up the opportunity to mock a Christmas movie. As my wife has forbidden me from mocking my young cousins again this year when I trounce them at Wii Baseball, I desperately need an outlet. What? Not my fault they got no game.

This year I am celebrating Christmas on the island of misfit holiday films. Hollywood has a tendency to be at the forefront of the commercialization of Christmas by annually churning out any showy, tinseled garbage they can slap in a green and red box. It’s embarrassing but it’s a tradition as old as movies themselves. If you haven’t seen a film from 1964 called The Magic Christmas Tree, seek it out and you’ll understand the rich history of cinematic exploitation of the season. Today I look at a truly stinky Christmas turkey that still elicits heavy sighs from cinemaphiles of all ages: Jingle All The Way.

Let’s be honest, we watched dump trucks full of Christmas movies as indiscriminate sprats that do not hold up when reviewed during adulthood. But we perpetually absolve these films of their lacking every time we revisit them because to degrade them now would be a disparagement of our entire childhood. Jingle All The Way is not one of those films. I have absolutely no nostalgia for it because I did not enjoy it as a kid; well, I say kid but I was entering my teens when I saw it in theaters. I merely disclose this to assure you fine readers that I am examining this turd with the most objective of JFC criteria. Enjoy!

What Makes It Bad?

Ho Ho Holy Crap there are a lot of things wrong with Jingle All The Way! First of all, it’s a Schwarzenegger comedy from the 90’s so there are going to be issues inherent. But the interesting thing about Jingle All the Wayis that the stiffest, most stale line delivery in the film is often not from Arnie at all! Yup, secondary and ancillary characters pop up with reads that will make your eyes pop out. This movie is chock-full of hack. Not only do we have Mister Governator himself, but we are also treated to “comedian” Sinbad and an even younger, even more obnoxious Jake Lloyd. You all remember Jake Lloyd right? He’s the whiny, terrible child actor who grows into the even whinier, even more terrible Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels. And Sinbad?! The antithesis of hilarity. If you look at their careers after this film, Arnold went on to be the governor of California and Sinbad… he may actually work in a post office now so this is an appropriate role for him.

You know how most holiday films are cheesy or corny or more than a little over-simplified? We forgive all that because it’s usually done with an immense amount of heart and a real reverence for the magic of the season. Jingle All the Wayis about as heart-felt as watching two electric eels mate. At its core, this film is wretched. The central conceit is that there are basically two ways to be a good parent and win your child’s affection: buy your child whatever he wants no matter the cost or do something recklessly stupid that can perceived as heroic and risk that child’s life in the process. This movie actually bolsters the claim that a person’s lot in life is determined by whether or not they received a particular toy they wanted as a child. Wow! This is the kind of movie that would make a Buddhist vomit and/or light himself on fire.

The movie has absolutely no idea who its audience is. It spends 85 percent of the film focusing on the “comedy” of these two fathers trying to obtain the hottest toy of the year on Christmas Eve. So the humor comes from the audience’s ability to relate to the lunacy of consumerism spawned by the holidays. So clearly it is not a kid’s movie and in fact, they spend much of the movie debunking the idea of a Santa Claus so it could be sort of traumatic for a child. I wouldn’t have a problem with this, some of my favorite Christmas films wouldn’t be appropriate for children, but then the film takes a wild left turn near the end. From about the moment they get to the parade the film suddenly becomes a campy, silly superhero film. One of the few movies I’ve ever seen with a bipolar disorder. And you’ll forget all about the magic of Avatar when you see the sheer coloring book quality CG of Arnold flying over downtown Minneapolis on a jetpack. Game inhibitor!

Why I Love It!

To be honest, I don’t actually like this movie at all. I know the modus operandi of JFC is that I apologetically champion the films in question. To quell any controversy, even though I dislike this movie I still fully believe in its qualifications for the column. This film is a massive, seasonal train-wreck the magnitude of which must be seen to be fully understood. I’m going to suggest that you get really into the spirits of the holidays; consuming them will serve as the necessary ocular anesthetic. It is that brand of bad you cannot help but laugh at. By the time I was done watching this again, first time since it was in theaters, my sides hurt from guffawing at its atrociousness. And after all, isn’t that the definition of “so-bad-it’s-good”?

To say Arnold is out of his element in this film is to say it is odd to see a fish flying a Cessna. Apologies to all you Kindergarten Cop and Junior fans out there, but Arnie is no comedian. He tries to play the goofy, regular Joe father character and succeeds only at making the audience uncomfortable. He just plain, straight does not understand comedy at all. That being said, he is accidentally hilarious in this. If it weren’t for Schwarzenegger, the movie would be 100% unwatchable. They give him lines that are supposed to be funny for what they mean, and they just end up being amusing because of how he says them. I dare you not to laugh when Schwarzenegger exclaims, “who told you you could eat my cookies!” Or anytime he says the name of the coveted toy: tiurbow man! On top of that, he is so incapable of communicating subtext with his facial expressions and gestures that there are actually moments where he vocalizes it. “I cannot do this, I cannot steal from a child. I must go back.”

The fact is that Jingle All the Way, while insipid and utterly stupid, is fantastically over-the-top. If you’re the kind of person who demands of your Christmas films high quality whimsy or content that expresses the true meaning of the holidays, I would suggest Elf or the Alastair Sim Scrooge. If you are more inclined toward ninja santas, flaming nativity scene pieces, and Arnold Schwarzenegger punching a reindeer in the face, then this is your Christmas film! If nothing else, you have to admit it’s not something you see in every holiday movie; with good reason. Oh and let us not forget the fact that the entire time Arnold is in the Turbo Man suit and talking to his own son, the kid has no frankincensing idea that it’s him. Really Jake Lloyd? You have the only Austrian father in Minnesota and the molasses-thick accent isn’t a tip off? Insanity!

If nothing else, there is a purely exploitation angle to appreciate here. This movie was produced by the one and only Chris Columbus who is responsible for two of my all time favorite Christmas movies: Home Alone (Director) and Gremlins (Writer). If you are going to market this shit sleigh and you have zero integrity, what do you do? If you watch the theatrical trailer on the Jingle All the Way DVD, which I am supremely confident you all own, they actually use the John Williams score from Home Alone in the trailer! As if to say, if you love really good Christmas films, you…may be tricked into seeing this movie! There are actually smatterings of music cues throughout Jingle All the Way that will also seem very familiar to fans of Home Alone.

I would be remiss for not mentioning that this film marks one of the last onscreen appearances of the great Phil Hartman. How anyone got him to be in this piece of trash is beyond me, but I adore the guy and will take full advantage of any opportunity to see him in a film; even if he is slumming in a horrid holiday disaster.

Junkfood Pairing

Spiked Eggnog. There is absolutely no reason to watch this schlock stocking sober. Whether you buy a bottle of pre-mixed nog or have a special family recipe, for Christmas sake please drink as much as possible before viewing. I would also suggest making tray upon tray of sugar cookies for to dip in this festive libation. As long as they are not Arnold’s cookies, you should be good to go.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.