|'Levant's film feels stronger once it ditches its slight and artificially sweet father-son story arc and opts for a shamelessly episodic structure that puts Schwarzenegger in one ridiculous situation after another'.|
With Black Friday becoming the latest American import to British shores and leaving scenes of chaotic commercialism in its wake, Jingle All The Way feels in many ways more relevant than ever as the film approaches the twentieth anniversary of its release. Exaggerated scenes of baying masses trampling shop assistants and ransacking shelves don't feel quite so exaggerated after you've watched footage of Londoners fighting each other over cut price flatscreens in Asda.
Not that Jingle All The Way either condoned or condemned such actions back in 1996. Randy Kornfield's screenplay is perfectly happy to sit firmly on the fence when it comes to such matters, instead allowing the film's events to play out detached from any moral or message. It gives Jingle All The Way a hollow sense of resignation: this is what Christmas has become, and arguing either for or against won't change anything, so why bother?
That said, director Brian Levant's festive film never feels as though it was made for such levels of philosophical analysis - this is, after all, a film in which Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers an uppercut to a stampeding reindeer. After an overly-sentimental opening act which sets up Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) as the workaholic father hoping to win back the affections of his young son Jamie (Jake Lloyd), Jingle All The Way's plot becomes firmly secondary to its over-the-top action.
In a perverse fashion, Levant's film feels stronger once it ditches its slight and artificially sweet father-son story arc and opts for a shamelessly episodic structure that puts Schwarzenegger in one ridiculous situation after another. Arnie's enthusiasm can't be knocked, giving it his all during both the ludicrous comedy and the schmaltzy dreck. It makes Jingle All The Way just about equal parts enjoyable and unbearable. Anything featuring Lloyd is terrible, but scenes such as Howard taking on a ring of counterfeit-toy-peddling Santa Clauses led by Jim Belushi are undeniable fun.
The supporting cast offers just as little stability. Phil Hartman, in his final film role before his death, is great as Howard's neighbourly nemesis Ted, stealing pretty much every scene he's in. Less successful is shopping rival Myron (Sinbad), a character written and performed like a cartoon, with Sinbad apparently holding the misplaced belief that shouting every line he has will make it funnier. In the end, whilst there are certainly entertaining elements to be found within Levant's film, Jingle All The Way finds itself dangerously near the lower echelons of the already dicey "so bad it's good" area of cinema for the vast majority of its running time.