20 Years On: “Jingle All the Way”

The holidays are upon us, and skipping over one holiday to get to another has been in full swing for some time! Why stop now?! It’s also a great time to revisit holiday films, especially those from your childhood. It’s the only way to really discover that there was something wrong with it and your parent’s were part of the conspiracy. Seriously, what were they thinking? Is that their version of payback?

The 20th Century Fox film “Jingle All the Way” is every parents (or adults) nightmare, which only gets worse as it goes along.

This comedy stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Terminator Genisys”, “Maggie”), Sinbad (“Comedy Bang! Bang!”, “Steven Universe”), Phil Hartman (“Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child”, “Blasto”), Rita Wilson (“Pitch”, “Brother Nature”), Robert Conrad (“Dead Above Ground”, “Nash Bridges”), Martin Mull (“Life in Pieces”, “The Ranch”), Jake Lloyd (“Madison”, “Star Wars: Episdoe I – The Phantom Menace”), and James Belushi (upcoming “The Hollow Point”, “Good Girls Revolt”).

The film was directed by Brian Levant (“Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure”, “A Christmas Story 2”) and written by Randy Kornfield (“Bloodknot”, “Incident at Deception”).

The film originally opened on Nov. 22, 1996.

For some reason, which I’ll probably never be able to figure out, I thought that watching this film would be a good idea. It wasn’t. I guess the fault lies with the fact that this film turned 20 today, and, well, I’m a sucker for film anniversary’s. I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity to watch this terrible film and see if it was a terrible as I was dreading. Something else that makes this all the more strange, the fact that I don’t think I’ve seen this in over a decade. Hell, probably longer than that. Yet, surprisingly, I have memories of this film and somehow, no doubt due to time, I’ve morphed them into reasons I should fear this film. I truly do know how to amaze myself.

If only this film could’ve amazed me in even the slightest way. Seeing as it didn’t, the only rational thing to do, other than once again regret watching a childhood favorite (which still makes absolutely no sense), is talk about what makes this film 10 times more obnoxious as an adult viewer, and why kids may find this film fun, even after two decades.

It’s the comedy, which includes various jokes and hijinks. It’s just bad. All of it. The stuff for kids, and the large amount, which is itself surprising, that’s meant for the adults that took the children to see it, even though they no doubt didn’t deserve it. It’s awful. For a 90 minute film it felt like it would never end. Sure, I’ll give you that kids might find all the running around, the hitting, tripping, and other physical comedy amazing, but it wasn’t. Why? Because all this was for a damn toy and I couldn’t ever shake that thought. And it’s borderline highly unlikely. Large mobs of people? Yes. Deliberately trying to harm someone? Maybe a little less believable, even if it might eek out a giggle. I’ll also concede the point that some of the more adult jokes could make kids laugh. They wouldn’t know any better. To them, it’s all a game and they’re also coming off of some other previously funny bits. It’s unavoidable. However, it doesn’t mean it’s the best kind of joke in the world. I’m surprised the studio allowed it in, but hey! this was the mid-‘90s, are you that surprised? I guess some of that could be coming from the times we live in now. If 10 years ago looks so drastically different, then 20 years ago is completely foreign. We may as well have hopped in a time machine.

The jokes that surprised me were terrible, but for two different reasons. Inappropriate, and when viewed in the context of what’s usually in a kid’s film, more so than usual, and just tasteless. If kids get wise the conversations had with parents could be very interesting. A large majority of the jokes, that weren’t involving physical comedy, and some that did, involved various crimes. Breaking and entering, theft, attempted arson, impersonating a police officer, tampering with mail (which is a federal crime), and partaking in shady deals which ultimately leads to a raid as those Santa’s were selling counterfeit goods. That may not be a full on crime, but it still speaks to the low level Kornfield aimed for when writing this. I feel I should add one more, even though it isn’t at all a crime, but may as well be. It speaks to Schwarzenegger’s character, and why he himself isn’t all that likable. He made his kid cry. He was so busy trying to blame everyone but himself, for his major screw up, he made Anakin Skywalker cry. Just terrible.

The next level of awfulness endured was all because of tasteless jokes. Well, I find them as such and seeing as I didn’t get even the slightest laugh from them, it made suffering through them even worse. There were jokes about pedophiles, “stranger danger”, postal workers and the real life tragedies that had occurred at that time (and dating back 10 years prior) and would continue to occur, bomb threats, which were tied in with the postal worker jokes, and many other jokes that just bothered me. If I’m bothered, even by something from the ‘90s, you’ve got a pretty big problem.

Adding to that problem, are lifeless and largely unlikable characters. I could go on and on about each, but that’s pretty pointless. None of them did anything for me and only played the superficial parts needed. However, while each is unremarkable, none irked me more than Hartman’s character. Whatever possessed him to take this role, well, I feel bad for him. It sucks too that he died a few short years later. Anywho. His character is one major creep. Beyond creepy. Almost a stalker. He spends the entire film trying to invade Wilson’s personal space, her home, her life, all in the attempts of getting closer because he likes her. That would be cute if he didn’t do it so goddamn all the time, and with little regard for the fact that Schwarzenegger’s her husband. An unavailable and unreliable husband, but still her husband. Each time Hartman made a move, even if a bit more subtle, but especially in front of Schwarzenegger, I hoped for the best possible outcome. Hartman would get what we coming to him. Eventually he did, from Wilson, and it was the best moment of the film! Show that intrusive creep who’s boss!!

If these things weren’t enough to paint this an awful film, hopefully this next thing will. It just makes the film and the fact that it exists, all the more tragic. Again, adults had (or chose to) sit through this for their children, and because of this there should’ve been something to get from it. There wasn’t. Even the message failed to come across. No, not the little kid message about not being selfish during the holidays, which is how I interpreted that, but you get the gist. That message was clear, and came right at the end of the film, where it was expected. And yes, eye rolls were had. The problem is the grown up message. It’s not exactly veiled, but the impact can’t at all be felt. This film is supposed to be a critique on consumerism. In some slight way you could say that was achieved, but you’ll leave the film not remembering that. If this film had been set up like a true satire, then maybe, but you’d also have a drastically different film. We can’t have that in mainstream films. That would be smart. Instead, what the world got was a lot of stupid noises, gags, and bad jokes that made it impossible for anything else to exist. It really is a shame.

What would we do without the holiday film? Probably not go as crazy as we do each year due to some mediocre film that wants to be so much more. Or, in some cases, we wouldn’t have childhood favorite films. Films that entertain us time and again during the holiday season, that we would come to dislike once we got older. Each year we expect a smattering of new holiday films, but that doesn’t mean that each one is equal, or even worth watching years later.

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