The hottest August day in 17 years may be an odd time to review Jingle All the Way but the rosey-cheeked racists on TV have got us feeling all Christmassy.
Set on Christmas Eve, this 1996 comedy follows a workaholic dad (Arnold Schwarzenegger) trying to find a specific action figure in order to win the affection of his preternaturally materialistic son (Jake Lloyd, soon to be Anakin Skywalker). Where most holiday movies serve as commercial products pushing an insincere “true meaning of Christmas” message, Jingle All the Way is at least up front about its cynicism.
Gremlins writer Chris Columbus rewrote the script to add satire about the commercialisation of Christmas, but when your entire film is a man desperate to buy a toy the gag gets stretched so thin it becomes almost imperceptible. And rather than make the family poor or even just sympathetic, the stinking rich characters also have stinking attitudes. To appease his tiny Darth Vader of a son, our hero punches Santas, dwarves and reindeer, commits arson and yells at Jake Lloyd until he cries – which is as relatable as the film gets.
Schwarzenegger at least seems energised in another suspicious-in-hindsight “terrible husband” role, whereas Lloyd literally mouths along with other actors’ lines (to be fair Arnie sometimes does that too). Tonally speaking it’s surprisingly unambiguous for an Arnie movie, insofar as you can tell it’s meant to be a comedy – if you fast-forward past the bit where he’s mistaken for a paedophile.
If you should suffer a bout of heatstroke and decide you need to see a film where Arnie runs around shouting “Turbo-Man”, Jingle All The Way is mercifully short (by virtue of not having a plot) and occasionally even fun – particularly now that online Christmas shopping has made assaulting Santa Clauses a purely recreational activity. The execution is solid but the premise sordid, to the point that it actually makes sense of the whole Trump thing.