I'm not a pervert!
Film: Jingle All the Way (1996)
Director: Brian Levant
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman
Written by: Randy Kornfield
Sometimes when I go out trolling for the five dollar bargain DVDs which patronize my forays into cinematic absurdity, I feel like kind of a dick. It’s not that I feel bad about making fun of these flicks and celebrating their ridiculousness. For one, anything that costs over a million dollars to make deserves savage, savage mockery for any and all shortcomings it may have. More importantly, I actually enjoy finding things in these totally alien and/or lowest common denominator movies that appeal to my warped sensibilities. Consider this column a series of exercises in celebrating buried treasure and/or not being offended by entertainment.
Still, there are moments when, upon uncovering a true Bizarro gem, I get a tingle of mwahaha villainy at the thought of unleashing said film upon myself, my friends, and whatever small fraction of the world reads my ramblings.
With all this in mind, I felt like a huge dick when I found Jingle All the Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bid at creating the most epic Christmas movie of all time. It wasn’t so much because Schwarzenegger was making a Christmas movie; I’ll watch the Governator in pretty much anything and not complain. You know what you’re getting, anyway. Yes, I would have loved to see him in his Mr. Freeze getup from Batman and Robin, his absolute zero heart finally warmed by a hero who may or may not be wearing a benippled suit. But the reality of this film, Schwarzenegger brawling with other suburbanites to get his chronically disappointed son the year’s equivalent of the Tickle Me Elmo doll, I can live with.
No, my dickhead shame came from the idea of watching a Sinbad movie.
Actually, let me get something out of the way before I go off on Sinbad. Schwarzenegger’s sad bastard son is played by Jake Lloyd, a kid who would have faded gracefully into child actor heaven alongside the Alex D. Linzes and Curly Sues of the world had George Lucas not decided to cast him as Lil’ Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I have this awesome mental picture of George Lucas, sitting down for a nice Christmas movie with his family in 1996 and putting on this instant classic. At the moment when Jake Lloyd gets on the phone and hollers at his old man for being an absentee parent, I picture George Lucas throwing his bowl of popcorn to the floor, leaping to his feet, pointing at the kid onscreen and screaming “That’s my Darth Vader!” I don’t know if that’s how things went down, but if this moronic thought has any basis in truth, this silly Christmas movie actually has a dire and far-reaching effect.
Behold the horror of Sinbad.
Okay, back to Sinbad. As a boy raised by stand-up comics, I loathe Sinbad. In particular, I remember watching one of his comedy specials as a child, seeing him saunter around a stage dressed in the fluorescent overall spawn of M.C. Hammer’s pants, going off about the difference between black mamas and white mamas (the answer: whuppins). It was the blandest stand-up I ever remember watching. Since then, Sinbad has always struck me as a jumpy, poor man’s Bill Cosby, without the imagination, storytelling, or wit.
I say all this because Sinbad is awesome in this flick.
Obviously, Schwarzenegger’s the focus; in fact, he takes up way too much focus. His woes are typical in a Christmas comedy. He must save his family with the power of presents, stop the pervy neighbor (Phil Hartman, playing with creepy banality) from hitting on his wife, and take on an army of bad Santas who want to “deck his halls”. Okay, seeing Schwarzenegger fight a giant Santa and a midget Santa at the same time is pretty amazing.
Sinbad’s rival toy-hunting parent is so marginalized and second-tier that we never even see his kid, the child whom he’s fighting for and who (spoiler alert) ends up with the super awesome toy of the season. Lil’ Darth, beaming with restored family joy, needs not his super dandy action figure, so he hands it off to Sinbad, who but minutes before (spoiler alert) almost killed him. And yet there’s no payoff from the other kid, neither the bright-eyed joy from getting Super Awesome Toy 1996 nor crushing loss at knowing that dad’s going away for a long, long time.
It’s in keeping with Jingle All the Way’s theme of rabid Christmas consumerism that not only does the film not care about anybody’s problems but those of Schwarzenegger’s family – nobody else but his family really seems to exist.
With the limited time the film affords him, Sinbad does everything he can to be memorable, and he succeeds. He’s the guy who (accurately) questions the Christmas gift racket, unlike Schwarzenegger’s hapless, overcompensating dad. Yet Sinbad, who somehow shows up at the same diner where Schwarzenegger is recuperating from his latest misadventure, takes a swig of tucked-away booze and also notes that his neighbor, who received Super Awesome toy 1974, is a billionaire. Sinbad’s postal worker didn’t, and thus isn’t. This is a pretty incredible leap of logic.
The postal worker part comes into play when Sinbad pulls out a loaded package and blows up a room full of cops! Yeah! Jingle All the Way actually makes Sinbad a domestic terrorist! Of course, the devastation is later revealed to be some harmless Wile E. Coyote grade charring, but there’s a second after one sees the explosion where one thinks: “Holy crap! Sinbad just killed a bunch of guys!”
In the final stretch of the film, Sinbad and Schwarzenegger have their final showdown over Super Awesome Toy 1996, and Sinbad ends up in some green Martian superbrain getup reminiscent of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. While in this epic conflict, Sinbad does the best thing that happens in this movie. First, he uppercuts a pink saber-toothed tiger wearing a shiny gold thong, played by the great Curtis “Dudley ‘Booger’ Dawson” Armstrong. After dispatching this interloper, he pursues Schwarzenegger’s kid and his Super Awesome Toy through a crowded Christmas parade. When he reaches the part of the stream populated by walking Christmas ornaments, Sinbad shoves over a guy dressed as a present and screams: “Get out of my way, box!” It’s meant to be a throwaway scene, but the absurdity is genius.
You know, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed Jingle All the Way as much if Sinbad wasn’t in it. I may have to revise my standing opinion on his work, even if I never change my mind about his Hammer Pantsuit.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
(As a super awesome amazeballs bonus, behold this epic tune from Schwarzeneggercore band Austrian Death Machine, referencing the ball pit scene from Jingle All the Way! I give you… “I’m Not a Pervert!”)