You think the holidays get on your nerves? Get a load of Howard Langston. He's so uptight he spends Christmas Eve brawling over a plastic dummy in Jingle All the Way.
Actually, it's an action figure of a TV character called Turbo Man, and his cute young son (Jake Lloyd) just has to have one.
Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a type-A go-getter, is so guilt-ridden over neglecting his son and wife (Rita Wilson) that he figures acquiring this toy is the only way to regain his family's trust.
as Harold Langston.
With the hot toy out of stock everywhere, he goes on a mad search through Minneapolis, shadowed by an equally demented postal worker (Sinbad) who has promised the same toy to his son.
As it happens, Howard does manage to play the hero for his son - literally - by accidentally becoming the Turbo Man in time for a big special-effects climax.
I suppose the filmmakers would tell you the movie's message is that material things are no substitute for family devotion. Technically, that may be right, but the movie spends all of about five minutes making the point. What it really says is, a) you can never have too many groovy toys, and b) when you're desperate and full of doubt, hit someone.
The slapstick gets way out of hand, violence-wise, in a big hurry. From about 10 minutes into the film, Howard spends most of his time wrestling, chasing, choking, punching, body slamming and yelling for this gaudy plastic figure.
He attacks the mail carrier, throttles a store clerk, stalks a little girl and beats up a warehouse full of crooked Santa impersonators. During the movie's big finale, children watching a parade are invited to stomp on Turbo Man's sidekick because his action figure isn't popular. Mom even gets into the act, slamming a smarmy neighbor (Phil Hartman) in the head with a Thermos full of coffee when he makes a crude pass at her.
|Sinbad as Myron LaRabee.|
They should have called it True Lies for Tots.
Not that some of the mayhem isn't funny. The mob scene inside the toy store, where grown men and women run amok looking for the elusive toy, is almost hilarious. And the script comes up with a constantly escalating cascade of setbacks for Howard that sets a nice, screwball pace.
Still, the overall effect is disquieting - too simplistic for an adult comedy and too angry for a children's movie. Mr. Schwarzenegger in particular alternates between rage and self-loathing, like a man in dire need of Prozac. He only seems happy when at last the cartoon hero's garments are thrust upon him, freeing him from the ill-fitting cloak of a regular guy.
IF YOU GO:
Jingle All the Way
(PG; a few profanities, comic violence) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman. 90 minutes. At National Amusements.