Movie Review: Jingle All the Way
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 1996
Directed by: Brian Levant
Genre: Comedy / Family
Stars: 3 out of 5
Family movies, and especially holiday movies designed as comedies for the whole family, tend to fall back on tropes and clichés. "Jingle All the Way" avoids the clichéd tales of love and joy and instead goes directly for laughs at the expense of the crass commercialism found during the holiday season. The film delivers some interesting moral dilemmas through such strange elements as consumption-crazed shoppers and hordes of evil Santas. The result is a hilarious film that is likely to find fans of all ages.
"Jingle All the Way" tells the story of Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Langston is an overworked businessman who rarely has time for his family and regularly disappoints them. The movie follows Langston's attempts to get the one toy that his son wants most of all for Christmas. Howard's neighbor is a divorced father named Ted Maltin (Phil Hartman) who constantly shows his disdain for Howard and his obvious failure to be the super-dad that Maltin appears to be. He's joined in this pursuit by Myron Larabee (Sinbad), a deranged postal worker with an equal desire to get the toy. Together, Howard and Myron engage in hilarious antics designed to ensure that at least one of them gets out with the hit toy of the season.
The acting in the film is one of its two greatest highlights. Schwarzenegger creates a believable figure with Howard Langston, pulling off a straight-faced performance even when the scene is as incredible as facing a horde of bootlegger Santas or a rambunctious reindeer. Sinbad's portrayal of a disgruntled postal worker is likewise excellent, and the humor of the many twists and turns of the story mesh exceptionally well with the veteran comedian's personal delivery style. Hartman's many pointed looks and verbal jabs provide yet another source for laughs. At the same time, they provide an emotional impetus for the film. Many great comedic actors, including Martin Mull and James Belushi, provide hilarious cameos designed in part to add further levity to the more serious moments of the film.
The movie's cinematography is one area where flaws become apparent. While the slapstick jokes are captured in a very engaging fashion, camera angles during dialogue scenes and expositional sequences tend to take some very odd choices. Exceptionally close angles are often used, presumably to create humor in an otherwise serious sequence of expositional dialogue, but moviegoers may find themselves less than pleased with the result. Likewise, many transitions between scenes may jar audiences out of the suspension of disbelief. This has the effect of making viewers all too aware that they are watching a film that is supposed to be funny instead of simply laughing at the hilarity of the scene.
The writing is the second key element of "Jingle All the Way." The many hilarious lines delivered by Sinbad and the slapstick comedy of Schwarzenegger seem to be drawn from an excellent script with no end of laughs. Even the expositional elements are handled tongue-in-cheek, resulting in a snicker or chuckle regardless of the scene's prevailing mood. The slapstick humor often incorporates witty or clever elements along with physical action. The dialogue flows very well between most of the characters, including cameo actors who only appear on screen for minutes, if not seconds. The flow of the dialogue is not impeded at all by the often inane situations in which the characters find themselves, allowing for fast pacing and engaging conversation in even the strangest settings.
The movie's direction is not quite up to par with the writing or acting in the film but still provides an adequate method of delivery. Each slapstick joke is paced evenly with expositional or intentionally humorous dialogue. The overall result is both hilarious and easy to follow. Likewise, the film's editing hits a few snags. Some strange transitions completely break the otherwise fast-paced action or dialogue. The morals and obvious condemnation of crass commercialism that comprise the film's overarching theme seem almost too heavy-handed at points, though this does not detract too much from the overall enjoyable experience.
"Jingle All the Way" does what it sets out to do. It is a wonderfully hilarious film that is sure to elicit chuckles from children and adults alike. The raucous antics can easily provide an amusing break during a hectic holiday season or a fun experience at any time of the year. The movie will easily appeal to fans of comedic legend Sinbad or those who enjoy slapstick and situational comedy.