It's not sleigh bells ring-jing-jingling in "Jingle All the Way." It's your money -- assuming you are either a consumer caught up in the frenzy of buying for Christmas or a moviegoer who has just plunked down $7 to see this film.
You poor thing.
It's not that this Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy is really bad. It's just that it's not good. There's always room for a holiday farce at Christmastime, but despite its refreshingly twisted sensibility, Jingle" isn't even as good as "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" or "Scrooged." And that's saying something.
Here's the story: Ah-nold plays Howard, a salesman so devoted tTC to work that he keeps missing his son's karate presentations and other vital family events. So he decides to prove that he's a good dad by getting his kid the toy he must have: Turbo Man, who springs from a Power Rangers-like show complete with primary colors and ruthless merchandising.
In his assault on the malls, Howard must contend with Sinbad, who plays a demented postal worker (it's open season on postal workers, as this movie and "Dear God" make clear) who is also intent on getting the doll.
What they go through is occasionally quite funny but mostly wearing. From a slapstick-filled toy-store spat to a Conan-like battle with an army of bogus Santas to an epic and dizzying chase through the Mall of America, the two of them will stop at nothing to buy this elusive toy. A hapless police officer (Robert Conrad) gets the worst of it in his repeated run-ins with the clumsy and usually grouchy Schwarzenegger.
Every once in a while, Howard has a fleeting pang of conscience about the viciousness of his manic quest (it's like the Terminator vs. Toys-"R"-Us), and then he's off again.
Meanwhile, Howard's wife, Liz (Rita Wilson), is terribly disappointed in Howard's apparent neglect, so their neighbor (Phil Hartman), a single superdad who even got his kid a reindeer, pours on the smarmy sensitivity while trying to steal her affections. Hartman is the funniest thing in the movie; his orgasmic delight in Liz's cookies while he's talking on the phone with a jealous Howard is, literally, a scream.
Which brings us to the principals.
Schwarzenegger is likable and sometimes funny, but mostly he's just himself, and he doesn't have the natural comic flair needed to redeem a role that's hopelessly contrived to begin with.
Sinbad is energetic, but half the chase takes place without him, and his character is beyond sympathy when he starts putting Howard's kid in mortal danger. This is supposed to be funny?
The film finally goes off the deep end, so that grown-ups, and probably kids, too, will no longer be able to suspend disbelief.
To misquote "It's a Wonderful Life," every time a bell rings, an Ah-nold gets his wings: When he starts flying around the Twin Cities in a jet pack, not even Turbo Man can save this flick.
'Jingle All the Way'
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad
Directed by Brian Levant
Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated PG (slapstick violence)
Sun score: **
Pub Date: 11/22/96