As one would expect with "Home Alone" director Chris Columbus listed as one of the producers, "Jingle All the Way" doesn't exactly dawdle along in its storytelling. In fact, narratively it's akin to a two-reel silent, one of those madcap ditties that Hal Roach or Mack Sennett might have cranked out at their laugh factories. "Jingle" is, essentially, a frantic race against time as the story's straight man careens along in his quest on a course completely booby-trapped by banana peels and obstructing oddballs.
The star and straight man in this outing, of course, is Schwarzenegger, who hunkers down into the role of Howard Langston, a workaholic father whose booming business has left him little time for his wife (Rita Wilson) and young son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd). Unlike Ozzie Nelson, good-hearted Howard seems never to be around the house and, as he realizes, he's down to his last chance with his wife and child. If Howard doesn't get Jamie the Turbo Man toy for Christmas (he white-lied to his wife that he had bought it ages ago) he might as well pack it up and take a permanent cot down at his factory. Naturally, the Turbo Man has slipped his mind and now he's down to the day before Christmas to get one. And, of course, all the stores are sold out.
For modern-day warrior Howard, the Turbo toy is the Golden Fleece and Holy Grail rolled into one. Quite sagely, screenwriter Randy Kornfield has pitted Schwarzenegger against an array of obstacles where neither his brawn nor his brain are assets: feisty female shoppers; a dastardly mall Santa (James Belushi); a disconsolate postal employee (Sinbad) and a role-model neighbor (Phil Hartman), who gets an A+ in dad-stuff. Borrowing from the classic farces, there's a running-gag authority figure, a cop (Robert Conrad), as well as a cute reindeer who doesn't take kindly to him. Most winning, the story has its heart in all the right places.
Director Brian Levant's ("Beethoven") expert wrapping, including its tightly drawn slapstick and zesty pacing, decks "Jingle" out with all the right trappings. That much of the slapstick mauling takes place in Minneapolis' gargantuan Mall of America, as Arnold is bedeviled by cute kids and irate moms, adds a fittingly spectacular toy-store look to the holiday hilarity.
As the frazzled suburbanite, Schwarzenegger is well-cast as the well-meaning but overworked Everyman. Admittedly, the part is not sprinkled with as many characteristic ticks and quirks as, say, the well-intentioned but neurotic Clark Griswold in the "Vacation" movies, but Schwarzenegger's sincere vexation and earnest tenacity are well-suited for the role. The remainder of the cast is similarly well-selected, including Wilson as his exasperated wife and Lloyd as their confused kid.
Like the tinsel on a tree, the supporting cast adds the perfect shine, namely Sinbad as a pent-up postal worker, Conrad as the running-gag cop and Hartman as the unctuously "perfect" neighbor. The technical contributions are also fitting ornaments, highlighted by Leslie McDonald's warm and spirited production design and David Newman's jaunty, shimmering score.
JINGLE ALL THE WAY
20th Century Fox
A 1492 Picture
A Brian Levant Film
Producers :Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan
Director :Brian Levant
Executive producer:Richard Vane
Director of photography:Victor J. Kemper
Production design:Leslie McDonald
Editor: Kent Beyda, Wilton Henderson
Co-producers:Jennifer Blum, James Mulay
Associate producers:Paula DuPre'Pesmen
Music :David Newman
Costume design:Jay Hurley
Casting :Judy Taylor
Visual effects supervisors:Gregory L. McMurry, Glenn Neufeld
Visual effects supervision:Rich Thorne
Sound mixer:Edward Tise
Howard Langston:Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ted Maltin :Phil Hartman
Liz Langston :Rita Wilson
Officer Hummell:Robert Conrad
DJ :Martin Mull
Jamie Langston:Jake Lloyd
Mall Santa: James Belushi
Johnny: E.J. De La Pena
First Lady: Laraine Newman
Billy :Justin Chapman
President :Harvey Korman
Running time -- 82 minutes
MPAA rating: PG