Jingle all the Way

(Take the kids for Christmas)

A Turbo-tale of Jingle Ding-a-ling from beginning to end. Opening with the force of 'Power Rangers' and closing with a Turbo-Tingle and a tear shed for family unity, Schwarzenegger makes another attempt at good clean comedy.

Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) is a man whose superficial friendliness and drive-to-get-ahead have helped him forget to purchase his own son's Christmas present, a Turbo-man doll. Having been negligent in all his other duties as a father, he is made even more sensitively aware of his slip-of-mind when his wife asks about the present. Naturally, being a good father and husband, he lies to her and says he already bought it. Unfortunately, this particular toy has been sold out in the shops since Thanksgiving and it is now Christmas Eve. Problem? No. Plot? Yes.

Modern character traits of the post-yuppie period seem also not to have escaped Jamie (Jake Lloyd), the tiny tyrant of a child who uses his own methods of manipulation to get mom (Rita Wilson) and dad to do exactly as he wishes; and they acquiesce, of course, because they're devoted parents.

Things really start to get out of hand when dad Howard begins his search for the Holy-Turbo-Grail that alone will bring joy to his child and satisfaction to his wife. Nothing must bar his achievement of the ultimate prize. After all, he's a dad of the nineties. No dirty-dealing Santa, law-enforcing cop, or twisted postman will intervene with dad.

Their neighbor, Ted (Phil Hartman), is a divorceÀ on the hunt for a new mom and, as it turns out, Howard's wife seems to fill the bill. Of course, he's such a 'perfect father' that he's got to be slimy, and dad Howard's grimaces alert us to this fact long before the neighbor's own actions do. Prejudice? Oh, well, we can accept even that in a dad who will let nothing stand in his way to get a treasured toy for his son. And, after all, Ted does busy himself constantly trying to bake mommie's cookies.

This might be fun for the kids on the holidays, but underneath remains a film with no vision. Although edging sometimes toward Grimm humor, in the class of Roald Dahl, it seems that either the makers were unaware of these moments or chose to ignore them when it came to the crunch. It almost gains the upperhand at certain moments: Two young salesmen (in distorted wide-angle lens close- ups) laugh at frustrated father Schwarzenegger while surrounding customers join in the grotesque hilarity. Hapless father's musical lottery-ball-chase throughout the Mall of America nears the nightmare proportions of a man trapped in a children's game. These scenes are almost artistic, but, unfortunately, they lead no further than the moment.

Most of the humor throughout the film is, indeed, black, but manages, oddly, not only to be overtly aggressive and destructive, but to work against any positive values at all. There's nothing wrong with a prat-fall, but what about growling at neighbors, stealing toys, punching reindeer and pursuing all manner of cut-throat competition during the 'season of good tidings?' Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good fight?

Special mention for Sinbad who, as postman Myron Larabee, steals the biggest chunk of comedy hands down. Director Chris Columbus tries to follow up his previous hits 'Home Alone' and 'Mrs. Doubtfire.' with this holiday escapade, but I don't think so. Phil Hartman as the 'lech next door' has enough experience and insight to milk his one-dimensional character for all it's worth. Rita Wilson, as the perfect mom, manages to throw one or two beautiful reactions at the Christmas parade when Turbo Man (in the flesh) approaches Jamie and her, giving them a gift and revealing his true identity; these subtle reactions have a wonderful tongue-in-cheek quality.

The first scene and the last scene could have been edited together to produce an interesting short film for adults; at its present length it is suitable for young children and will undoubtedly enjoy Christmas success at the box-office. I suppose if children could accept Punch and Judy, the Three Stooges, and Popeye and Bluto, they'll have fun with Turbo-Man and the villain with the bathtub brain. But it's no Toy Story, folks. Take the kids and see what they think.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett