Jingle All the Way [1996]

It's Christmas Eve, and Arnold needs to find a Turbo Man action figure, the craze of the season. Only they're sold-out, of course. So the race is on, and Arnold does fierce battle with other shoppers and merchants alike, all for the prize toy with which to purchase his son's affections. His chief rival and nemesis is Sinbad, a mailman who's always going--you guessed it--postal. (Must have looked good on paper.) All of which is unwittingly very sad, on the content level. But the film supposes itself to be amiable enough, on its own shabby terms, even when it climbs out of the screen and starts gnawing at your furniture. If the humor were to get broader it would make HDTV obsolete. The tone can only be termed good-naturedly mean-spirited. Goofy carnival music runs continuously in the background so we never forget that what we're seeing is, er, um, funny. All the action is composed of comic violence, like an unhip Warner Bros. cartoon. Do the filmmakers actually consider this cynical foray to be indicative of the Christmas spirit? Apparently so, because the resolution has Arnold winning quite inadvertently, and offers no clear alternative to the competitive commercialism that drives the film's attempts at humor. In a key scene that's meant to be touching, Arnold and Sinbad sit down for a heart-to-heart in which we learn that receiving much-wanted Christmas presents in our formative years is responsible for our success in adulthood. You get that Turbo Man, you'll be a billionaire; don't get it, you'll be a loser. Such is the formidable challenge of parenthood, to cater to the child's whims while it can still make a difference. This is what's wrong with this country. --Jim Gay

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