Saturday, July 16, 2022

Stubs - Jingle All the Way

Jingle All the Way
(1996) Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, Jake Lloyd, Jim Belushi Directed by Brian Levant. Screenplay by Randy Kornfield Produced by Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Mark Radcliffe. Runtime: 89 minutes. USA Color Christmas, Family, Comedy.

Every so often, a toy will be released at Christmas time that will have a high demand and a low supply. An early example of this was The Cabbage Patch Kids in the 1980s, and the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and in the mid-1990s, Buzz Lightyear. And if you were unfortunate not to have picked up on the trend and your child’s wish for one, you could be out of luck when the big day arrives and that present is not under the tree.

Making a comedy about this is nothing new, as the TV show Fraiser made an episode about the Outlaw Laser Robo-Geek, the Christmas present his son wanted, in 1995. Another take on this was Jingle All the Way, made in 1996. This time, the toy is Turbo-Man.

Turbo-Man is a kids' adventure show, ala Power Rangers. In the episode we see, Turbo-Man (Daniel Riordan) saves the President (Harvey Korman), the First Lady (Laraine Newman), and their daughter from the evil clutches of Dementor (Richard Moll). As with all of these types of shows, there is a toy attached, Turbo-Man, which young Jaime Langston (Jake Lloyd) wants for Christmas. But first things first, there is his karate belt ceremony that his mother, Liz (Rita Wilson), reminds his father, Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger), about.

Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a mattress salesman.

Howard is a busy man with his mattress business. He thinks he’ll have no trouble making the ceremony but forgets about rush hour traffic in the winter. Even though the Twin Cities, where the film is based, is no Los Angeles, rush hour is still rush hour.

While Howard is stuck in traffic, his wife Liz (Rita Wilson) and their neighbor
Ted (Phil Hartman) attend the belt ceremony for their kids.

Caught on the freeway, Howard decides to do the dick move and drive down the shoulder. Too bad that a traffic cop, Officer Alexander Hummell (Robert Conrad), catches him and pulls him over. Because Howard’s in a hurry, Officer Hummell gives him the full treatment, even testing him for a DUI. Needless to say, Howard is so late that they're cleaning up after the ceremony.

Sadly, this is not the first time Howard has disappointed Jaime, having missed previous belt ceremonies. Howard wants to make it up to him but even Jaime doesn’t trust him and has asked Santa for what he really wants, the Turbo-Man toy. Thinking he’s bonded with his kid, Howard relates it to Liz, who reminds him about the Turbo-Man action figure Howard was supposed to have bought two weeks before. Howard, of course, hasn’t bought the toy and is surprised when Liz is turning off the lights that she reminds him how hard it is to find the toy.

Howard has one more day, Christmas Eve, to find the Turbo-Man toy and sets off extra early to find it. He runs into his neighbor Ted Maltin (Phil Hartman), a single father, who brags that he already has the sought-after toy securely under his Christmas tree. Ted is so into spoiling his son that he’s bought a reindeer for the holiday, which he plans to release into the wild afterward. The reindeer doesn’t seem to like Howard at all.

Myron Larabee (Sinbad) is another father out looking for Turbo-Man.

Howard finds over and over again that the Turbo-Man action figure is sold out. In line, outside one of the stores, Howard is accosted by Myron Larabee (Sinbad), a postal worker with a bag of mail, who is in the same boat as Howard. Myron is just this side of going postal, as it were, in his quest for the toy. But when he suggests they team up in their pursuit, Howard turns him down.

Howard takes out his frustrations on a couple of toy store employees,
one of whom is a pre-SNL Chris Parnell.

Someone who could have been his ally turns into his enemy at the next stop, a toy store in the Mall of America that claims to have a small shipment of the action figure.

But before they both hurry off in their separate vehicles, Howard backs up into a police motorcycle, which belongs to Officer Hummell. Another ticket and another delay for Howard.

The store in the mall tries to be fair by having a lottery, asking parents to take a ball with a number on it. Bad idea as the parents go berserk. Even though Howard is stronger than most, he barely manages to get one of the balls in the melee. And when he does Myron takes it from him. The crowd turns on Myron when Howard claims he has two balls, which manages to extract the bouncing ball from Myron’s grasp.

However, the ball has the bouncing power of a superball and, try as he might, Howard is not able to catch it. When it bounces into the stroller of a young girl, Howard relentlessly pursues her. But his interactions with the girl are seen as child predator-like and he gets assaulted by all the mothers in the play area.

Howard manages to extract himself but catches the eye of the Mall Santa (Jim Belushi) and his elf, Tony (Danny Woodburn). Mall Santa offers to help Howard with Turbo-Man. Desperate, Howard agrees. But the action figure isn’t at the mall, but rather a shady warehouse operated by Santas. The toy turns out not to be an English-language version, as well as in pieces. When Howard demands the $300 he paid for it back, things get hairy as the Santas turn on him.

Mall Santa (Jim Belushi) is a con man but doesn't want to be called one.

Howard is only saved when the police raid the warehouse and arrest all inside. Using a toy police badge he happens to find, Howard manages to talk his way out, acting as if he was an undercover cop.

One miraculous escape later, Howard runs out of gas on the road and manages to push his car to a diner. Who does he meet there but Myron, who still has a full bag of mail but no Turbo-Man. Myron tells Howard that the disappointment can last a lifetime as he relates his own story to him, only making Howard more desperate to please his son, as he doesn’t want him to end up bitter like Myron.

All seems lost until the DJ on the radio (Martin Mull) announces a contest to get a Turbo-Man. The first person to call the station and name all eight of Santa’s reindeer will be the winner. Howard outraces Myron for the payphone (this is before cell phones) and even though he’s the first caller, Myron pulls the receiver out of the phone. The counterman at the Diner tells them that the radio station is close by, which leads to a footrace.

Howard arrives ahead of the mail-laden Myron and literally breaks into the booth and accosts the DJ only to find that if he had listened closely, the prize wasn’t a Turbo-Man now but a gift certificate for one later. Howard, deciding he has won the prize, takes the certificate. But Myron arrives and plays the postal card, stating that the package he is holding is actually a bomb. That ploy doesn’t work when the package turns out to be a music box.

Myron threatens the police with a supposed bomb, which turns out to be one.

By that time, the police have arrived on the scene. While Myron heads for the elevator, where he’s captured, Howard makes a run for the stairs where he encounters Officer Hummell. Myron pulls the bomb ploy again, which allows him and Howard to escape. And even though Hummell claims to know it’s not a bomb, the package turns out to be. Only Hummell is injured in the blast, his hands burned, in the explosion.

Howard returns to find that his car has been stripped by vandals and he is driven home by the tow truck driver.

Meanwhile, Ted has moved in to fill the void Howard has left, helping Liz bake Christmas cookies and even going so far as to put the star on top of the Langston’s tree, which is Howard’s job. Howard arrives just in time to see this through his window. That’s when he remembers Ted has a Turbo-Man under his tree.

Breaking into Ted’s house is easy and he finds the Turbo-Man under the tree. However, leaving gets complicated when carolers take up in front of Ted’s house. Trying to sneak out the back, Howard runs into the reindeer, which charges him and chases him into the house, causing damage. Howard decides to put the present back but the reindeer attacks him again and a fire starts. When Howard tries to put it out, he gets caught with the stolen present still in his clutches. Shocked, Liz asks Ted to take her and Jaime to the parade.

When they park Ted’s car, after letting the kids out, Ted makes a move on Liz but his attention is not reciprocated. Howard manages to make it to the parade and sees Ted making the move but when he’s trying to get over to Liz, he bumps into no less than Officer Hummell and manages to dump coffee on his already burnt and bandaged hands.

Running from Officer Hummell, Howard ends up in an alley and the only escape is going up a flight of stairs, which manages to end the pursuit. But Howard finds that he’s mistaken for the replacement actor to be on the Turbo-Man float, which is the highlight of the parade for all the kids in attendance. He doesn’t realize this until the float is already out on the parade route and a costumed and chain-smoking Booster (Curtis Armstrong), Turbo-Man’s loyal pet, tells him what to do.

WFTC Channel 29’s own Liza Tisch (Amy Pietz) and Gale Force (Phil Morris).

The parade, which is being broadcast by WFTC Channel 29’s own Liza Tisch (Amy Pietz) and Gale Force (Phil Morris), has a special moment. As Turbo-Man, Howard gets to select one lucky child to receive a special Turbo-Man action figure. Knowing his opportunity, Howard picks Jaime out of the crowd. But Myron hasn’t given up. After beating up the actor to play Dementor, he swoops in in what is supposed to be a staged fight. However, Myron makes it real.

Myron as Dementor won't stop in his effort to get a Turbo-Man action figure.

Jaime manages to escape, the toy in his backpack. Rather than running to his mother, he runs towards a building, climbing up to the top with Myron in hot pursuit. Jaime goes so far as to climb up a Christmas display on top of the building. When Myron goes up after him, the combined weight dislodges it from its moorings and the two are left dangling for their lives. Myron, not missing a trick, takes the Turbo- Man from Jaime.

Liz and Jaime (Jake Lloyd) meet Turbo-Man, not realizing it's Howard.

Howard realizes that the suit he’s wearing has the same capabilities as the suit in the show, including the ability to fly, which turns out not to be all that easy to handle. At one point, Howard gets too high and turns off the jets, only to free fall before turning them back on. Still, Howard manages to save Jaime, though not before flying through someone else’s apartment and destroying their Christmas.

Of course, the Turbo-Man suit can fly and Howard uses it to save Jaime.

Back on the ground, Myron is arrested and Officer Hummell is the one to return the toy to Jaime.  Howard makes a quick apology for all he’s done to the officer. As the police are dragging Myron away, Jaime gives him the Turbo-Man to give to his son, stating he doesn’t need the toy when he has the real Turbo-Man at home.

Awkward. Officer Hummell (Robert Conrad) is the one who
retrieves the Turbo-Man from Myron.

That night, Howard puts the star back on the tree and all seems to be great. That is until Liz, noting the trouble Howard went through for Jaime, wonders what he got for her. Which, based on his horrific expression, is nothing.

In true Hollywood marketing, there was a Turbo-Man action figure released for the film but it never really caught on. Perhaps it was the film but also the short lead time. The film was shot so quickly to its release date of November 22, 1996, only six and a half months were available for merchandising, instead of the ideal year. While the film was not made to sell the toy it would seem to have been a missed opportunity not to have one available in case the film caught on.

Made on a budget of $75 million, $20 million of which was Schwarzenegger’s salary, the film was not a runaway hit, making only $129.8 million worldwide. Reviews were for the most part negative with The New York Times critic Janet Maslin stating that the film lacked any real plot, failed in its attempt at satire, should have included Myron's only mentioned son and "mostly wasted" Hartman, while Levant's direction was "listless". The BBC’s Neil Smith criticized the film's script, its focus on the commercialization of Christmas, as well as Schwarzenegger's performance, which shows "the comic timing of a dead moose.”

While Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good action hero, his comedic range is somewhat limited. He made the film, in part, because he wanted to play an average man but when you look like he does, there are no average men like you. His character comes off as a self-centered jerk for most of the film, willingly ruining other people’s lives and properties in an attempt to overcome his shortcomings as a father. It’s not a great part and he doesn’t have the chops to overcome what is a rather weak script.

Sinbad is not one of my favorites to begin with and he gives a rather odd performance as a hapless father and terrible mail carrier. Again, blame the script but it is said that Sinbad ad-libbed many of his lines, which he was in a better place to do than Schwarzenegger, who reportedly did the same thing.

For a comedy, the talents of Phil Hartman, in the last film released before his untimely death, feel wasted. Hartman is not given much funny to work with and instead plays a divorced father who is a lothario around the neighborhood. As such, he comes off as creepy and not funny.

Rita Wilson, unfortunately, doesn’t bring much to the character of Liz, which is pretty one-dimensional. She shows a little fire when Ted molests her in the car but doesn’t pursue having him punished for it by the authorities, or at least by Howard.

While Jake Lloyd would be Vader later, he is only okay as the son. Again, a rather one-dimensional kid who only wants for his father’s love. The fact that he gives up the coveted action figure to a man who tried to kill him seems overly generous, which is not surprising given how bad the script really is.

The story is only propelled by a series of bad choices, the first of which is that Liz gives her husband the job of bringing home the coveted Turbo-Man. It’s as if she doesn’t know him, as he apparently disappoints his family repeatedly, saying he’ll be somewhere and not showing up. Without giving him a task that he shouldn’t be given, the film has no reason for being.

It is obvious that film is not meant to be examined too closely. One of the things that bothered me while watching it was how long Christmas Eve seemed to last. Howard had a day’s worth of misadventures before the parade. I live in California but it gets close to dark here about 4:30 on Christmas Eve. But in Minnesota, the sun apparently never seems to set as there is also the parade that happens before the sun goes down. And I’m sorry does anyone really have a parade on Christmas Eve? That seems like such an obvious device that seems devoid of reality. It is also convenient that Ted left a roaring fire in his house while he was gone, which helped to set the other fire caused by the reindeer. Does anyone really do that unless they're setting up a comedy gag?

There are special effects but that is not apparently where the money in the budget went. When Howard was falling from the sky, you get the impression that it was the same sort of effect Alfred Hitchcock used when Norman Lloyd fell from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur more than fifty years prior. Yes, it looks really cheap now.

Jingle All the Way is meant to be mindless family fun but it doesn’t meet that low threshold. I’m not against Family films, I just don’t like it when they are as stupid as this one. The only good thing to come out of the film would be Daniel Riordan’s career as a voice actor but you don’t need to see this film for that.

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