Plot: Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a loving father and husband, but he has been preoccupied with work of late and as a result, hasn’t been spending as much time at home as he should. He misses out on important events, but an overly friendly fellow from the neighborhood (Phil Hartman) always seems to be around, as if he is moving on on Howard’s family. This enrages Howard, but he is still tied up with work related matters and unable to be around, though his wife reminds him that with Christmas around the corner, the perfect gift could work wonders. All his son wants is a Turbo Man doll, but Howard forgot to pick one up and on Christmas Eve, the odds of finding one seem to be astronomical. But Howard is determined to get this right and be at the holiday parade, which would thrill his son to no end. But can he navigate the minefield of last minute holiday shopping?
Entertainment Value: I think Jingle All the Way is an interesting movie, as it casts Arnold Schwarzenegger against type, as a worn down family man who finds himself intimidated by Phil Hartman, of all people. This dynamic between the two men is an odd element that runs through the movie, but at its core, this is a light, fluffy holiday flick that aims for warm, basic laughs. I can understand why some might not like it, as it is silly and over the top, but to me that is part of the charm, as I doubt subtle was a goal with Arnold is this kind of role. The humor is consistent and mostly lands, with a lot of pratfalls and one liners, as well as ridiculous situations. Arnold against a workshop full of corrupt Santa Claus impersonators isn’t the kind of thing you see often, so I was glad to see these offbeat moments. I also think the movie’s themes are pretty universal, as most people wish they could devote more time to their families and we have all chased down that one elusive, hard to find present, so Arnold’s woes are relatable and that helps with the rather strained emotional beats. The movie is sappy of course, but that is to be expected and at least we get a wild, nonsensical finale where Sinbad repeatedly tries to kill a child.
This material could easily falter without the right lead and few could pull this off as well as Arnold. He is an odd choice, given how domesticated and passive he is at times, not to mention his nearly cuckold situation with Phil Hartman. But he plays the role well and amps up the comedy to over the top levels, especially when he has scenes with Sinbad, who also ratchets up the zaniness. As this is Arnold, the movie works in some action set pieces, but in creative ways that make sense within the narrative, such as the Santa brawl and the off the rails parade finale. I know his effort here is beyond broad, but I liked the performance and I think he carries the film well. Sinbad is a lot of fun as well, bringing a little darker humor into the mix, while Phil Hartman, Martin Mull, Rita Wilson, and Jim Belushi have enjoyable supporting roles. The movie also has a wealth of cameos, so a lot of familiar faces pop up here. I always fun with Jingle All the Way, as it is a brisk movie that provides some laughs and isn’t a demanding watch, plus Sinbad and Arnold are such an odd, but effective combination.