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'Jingle All the Way'

EntertainmentMoviesToy IndustryHolidaysArts and CultureChristmasPhil Hartman

Arnold Schwarzenegger is in so much trouble in Brian Levant's "Jingle All the Way" that Phil Hartman, playing a smarmy neighbor, exclaims, "You can't bench-press your way out of this." Given the leaden nature of the material, Schwarzenegger probably couldn't even bench-press the script. Who talked the Big Guy into this?
     "Jingle All the Way" is "Last Action Hero" without the laughs. It's 80 minutes of frantic mugging, of silly pratfalls and clown fights, of ideas lifted from other children's movies, design schemes from Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and characters from Toys R Us, all patched together without an innovative stitch of its own.
     "Jingle" is a movie as a catalog of Christmas gift ideas. That parade scene, in the streets of Minneapolis, features every perennial from Gumby to Winnie the Pooh, plus such recent additions as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the stars of "Toy Story," and the film's and the parade's star--Turbo Man!
     Turbo Man, a red-and-gold rocket-powered figure, is the new Saturday morning superhero and the hottest toy in America. Every dad worth his son's adoration bought one early, before it was sold out. Not Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger). This father, who may be the only person real or imagined to fit the description of workaholic bedding salesman, plumb forgot, and with his 7-year-old son's Christmas at stake and his wife's patience growing thin, he spends Christmas Eve trying to buy, beg, borrow or steal one.
     What follows is a string of slapstick sketches, with Howard and another 11th-hour shopper (Sinbad) fighting each other as they scramble from toy stores to shopping malls, finally ending up in the midst of that very Macy's-like parade.
     *
     The showdown, which has Howard inadvertently turned into Turbo Man himself, is the only clever device in the film, but the special effects are shockingly cheesy for a Schwarzenegger movie. It's as if director Levant, whose past triumphs include "Beethoven" and "The Flintstones," wanted the movie to reflect the artifice of the plastic toys. Quite an aesthetic goal.
     The performances are uniformly awful, but in fairness to the actors, their scenes and screenwriter Randy Kornfield's dialogue give them little to work with. Schwarzenegger has shown a good sense of humor in past films, but he is completely miscast in a role that only Jim Carrey might have pulled off. The movie's comedy is all physical, and there isn't an actor with physical comedy skills to be seen.
     Hartman, the star of NBC-TV's "NewsRadio," is a talented comedian and impressionist, and he has a few good moments as Howard's next-door nemesis, a divorced parent so thoughtful he bought his son both Turbo Man and a reindeer for Christmas. But he's playing a character that would wear out his welcome in a five-minute sketch on "Saturday Night Live."
     In even less effective roles, Jim Belushi shows up as a black-market Santa, Martin Mull as a radio station deejay and Robert Conrad as a hard-nosed cop having recurring run-ins with Howard.      Where are the Three Stooges when you need 'em?


Jingle All the Way, 1996. PG, for action violence, mild language and some thematic elements. A 20th Century Fox production and release. Director Brian Levant. Producers Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan. Executive Producer Richard Vane. Screenplay by Randy Kornfield. Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper. Editors Kent Beyda, Wilton Henderson. Costumes Jay Hurley. Music David Newman. Production design Leslie McDonald. Art director Thomas Fichter. Set decorators John Anderson, Ronald R. Reiss. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Howard Langston. Sinbad as Myron Larabee. Phil Hartman as Ted Maltin. Rita Wilson as Liz Langston. Robert Conrad as Officer Hummell. Martin Mull as DJ. Jake Lloyd as Jamie Langston.

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