The Cult Club: Jingle All the Way (1996)

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Welcome to a very special holiday edition of Cult Club. Why is it special? Well, for one we’re talking about a Christmas movie. But for two, we’re doing things a bit differently this time around. See, this month’s Cult Club film is Jingle All the Way, a film with an odd cult following that seem to love it.

I don’t get it, though. See, all of the previous Cult Clubs have tackled films that the writer has understood why they’re cult films, but I don’t understand why Jingle All the Way is remembered by anyone for any reason. Luckily my fellow writer, Jamie Stone, does get it. Thus, this month we’ll be double teaming the film. Jamie will be telling you why the film is awesome and deserves to be thought of as a cult classic while I’ll be playing devil’s advocate and tearing the thing apart.

Read on to find out for yourself if Jingle All the Way actually deserves to be a cult film.

Jamie: Arnold is probably the most successful action movie star of all time. There’s nothing better than watching him kill people in Total Recall or evade the predator in… Predator. By the same token, there’s nothing funnier than seeing Arnold playing a regular guy, capable of spite and jealousy, as well as other normal human emotions. Then there are moments when his character will go completely off the spectrum of believability and into the territory of the demented. There’s one scene where he’s in a toy store trying to outrun a mailman named Myron (who I will hereby refer to as ‘Sinbad’) for a Turbo Man doll. When Sinbad gets ahead of him, Arnold commandeers a remote control car from this Asian kid and trips him up with the car. Arnold then exclaims, “YEAH!” excitedly, which would be funny enough, but then he has the nerve to run over to Myron, look down at him and say, “Aw, poor baby…” after which we get a brief glimpse of Arnold’s crazed smile as he runs off to get the Turbo Man doll… Genius.

Matt: The entire marketing campaign for Jingle All the Way was based around Arnold and his star power. It’s obvious that the movie was sold as a Schwarzenegger vehicle, but it sure as hell wasn’t written for him. Yes, it’s fun to see Arnold out of character, but this out of character makes no sense and not in the good this-is-funny way, but in the bad pulling-your-hair-out-because-its-so-idiotic way. Sure his acting doesn’t lend any help to the character and he doesn’t really fit into any scene in any way, but when the end of your film is dependent on your main character’s son not recognizing him, a thick Austrian accent pretty much destroys any enjoyability an already dumb movie had. It’s so ridiculous it could be charming, but the film doesn’t actually have any charm to make an idiotic ending fun. It’s just so obviously a casting to get people into a terrible holiday movie.

Jamie: The late funny man, Phil Hartman, basically plays a decidedly perverted version of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. Hartman’s character bates Arnold throughout the entire movie, showing him up at every turn as the better father figure. That would be harm enough, but since Hartman’s Ted is single, he even tries to horn in on Arnold’s wife, which has to be #1 on the list of Top 10 Things To Piss Off Arnold Schwarzenegger (the first being NOT getting into the chopper). What’s great is that Hartman seems to be channeling a cooking show host, being as nauseatingly hospitable and helpful as possible. Then, he’ll occasionally show his true colors by intentionally mocking Arnold over the phone as he eats his wife’s cookies in one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen. It has to be seen to be believed. Phil Hartman, thanks for giving us the last laugh…

Matt: Hartman’s character is a perfect example of why this movie shouldn’t be any kind of cult film. Hartman is hilarious because he somehow makes a terrible character funny, but he plays it like he’s in a dark comedy and no one else in the film is on the same page. The film would have been brilliant if it had gone darker (more on that when talking on the ending), but it didn’t so Hartman’s perverted character is just disturbing. It’s just another case of not a single part of this movie actually fitting together. Sometimes disjointed movies like this can be so bad that they are good, but in this case it just makes for an incredibly awkward film that gets less and less enjoyable as it goes along.

Jamie: Sinbad befriends Arnold quickly as they relate over trying to find a Turbo Man doll. This would be a great bonding experience in some kind of drama or serious movie, but instead, Sinbad goes on an endless and loud rant about highly personal, familial and even sexual problems for everybody in the crowd to hear. Talk about going postal (nyuk nyuk, nyuk). At one point, he even seems to hallucinate as he tries to choke out a semi-elderly woman. Later on he tries to hold up a radio station with a fake bomb (or at least one he thinks is fake) in order to get his hands on a Turbo Man doll. He’s completely insane, and he’s one of the best examples of how to do crazy right in a comedy. He’s not without glimpses of humanity, though, which makes him that much more believable… and that scares me.

Matt: Really? I have to sit here and explain why having Sinbad in your movie isn’t a good thing? That’s especially true for a cult movie as Sinbad is the biggest flash in the pan comedian in years and the idea of him being in anything with a cult following makes no sense. His character is insane, but it’s not funny, it’s disturbing. He actually threatens the life of a child for a toy. That’s not funny and it’s not entertaining; it’s down right troubling and not very enjoyable to watch. The fact that the movie had to escalate to that level by the end only goes to show how overboard and idiotic his character already was. It’s hard not to sit there and wonder why anything in the movie happens, but Sinbad’s character’s actions are even more troublesome than the rest of the film put together.

Jamie: Jim Belushi’s role in this movie is short but ever so sweet. He plays a pre-Billy Bob Thornton bad Santa as a double-dealing businessman who tries to sell Arnold a Turbo Man doll back at his factory. On the way there, Arnold starts asking too many questions, to which Jim Belushi cops an attitude and asks a bunch of questions ad nauseum, “What are you, Dan Rather? What is this, 60 Minutes? What are you, the Question King? Huh? Chill!” When they get to the factory, Arnold sees that all the workers are dressed as Santa (to conceal their identities, since they’re obviously doing illegal activities there). After Jim Belushi tricks Arnold into buying a bogus Turbo Man doll that speaks Spanish, Arnold then fights a barrage of Santas including a ninja Santa, a huge Santa and his “little buddy” (a little person also dressed as Santa… What did you expect?) and an elf with a taser. To top this scene, once the cops arrive to arrest everybody, the elf goes, “It’s the Grinch! Scatter!” It’s one of the craziest scenes I’ve ever seen in a family film and deserves some kind of award for sheer lunacy.

Matt: This is the kind of bad comedy that leads Sinbad to almost kill a child at the end of the film. The thinking goes that you have to top an already unfunny Santa fight scene, and thus you need to kidnap a kid and almost kill him to be funny. Jim Belushi also falls into the same “should never be celebrated” category that Sinbad does. This scene is even odder because it’s so outside of the rest of the film’s story. Sinbad doesn’t play into it and it’s never really a factor again. I think they finished writing the film and decided they needed ten more minutes and a Santa in it to both make it a good length and also reaffirm that it’s about Christmas.

Jamie: The final battle sees Arnold as Turbo Man and Sinbad as Dementor as they duke it out for the special edition Turbo Man doll. It’s a pretty funny scene, but what’s really great about this scene is actually what happens right before it. Arnold is mistaken for an actor with a similar build who was set to be in the Christmas parade as Turbo Man. He’s getting suited up in the Turbo Man outfit (apparently immobilized by seemingly dozens of groping hands) and it cuts to a first person perspective where the PA tells him about the poor sap before him who wound up in the hospital and how he was “starting to show some brain activity… That’s a really good sign.” His facial expression and the way he adjusts his glasses seems to denote that he’s some kind of healthcare professional… which is then immediately debunked as he offers up a cheesy smile and a thumbs up before shoving Arnold off. He then sees his co-star, Booster, a chain-smoking, grizzled guy dressed up in a furry, pink, saber-toothed dog costume (Curtis Armstrong). Upon seeing Arnold in full Turbo Man gear, he says, “Where the hell have you been?! I’ve been sweatin’ like a dog in a Chinese restaurant waiting for you to show up!” He then stamps out the cigarette and puts on his Booster helmet. I just love the meta statement that most entertainers who dress up for kids are these hateful, cynical people who are clearly not doing this for the kiddies.

Matt: The end of this movie would totally jump the shark if the film hadn’t jumped the shark within the first ten minutes as Arnold answers phone calls attempting to show how good a business man he is. After this it’s just one more ridiculous scene after another that could easily make a great cult comedy if they were actually funny at all. That’s what’s really surprising. All the elements of an enjoyable cult comedy are there. It could be slightly dark; it could be so-bad-it’s-good; it could be funny in its terrible casting; it could have an ending that is so unbelievable that you buy into it. Jingle all the Way could quite easily be a cult film, but it isn’t because it’s just a bad film. There’s no reason to see this movie once, let alone dive into it multiple times because it’s a cult favorite. Any film that has Arnold Schwarzenegger punching a reindeer in the face and squanders that opportunity for greatness doesn’t deserve a cult status.

Jamie: That may be, Matt, but I’ve still got one last bit of fan service for the Jingle All The Way fans out there. Check the photo gallery for a little comic I did a while ago that showcases much love for Arnold’s past movies. Yes, even Jingle All The Way.

NEXT MONTH… Flixist’s Sean Walsh will be discussing John Carpenter’s They Live.

PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB

November: The Blood Trilogy (1963-65)

October: Dougal & The Blue Cat (1970)

September: Top Secret! (1984)

August: Battle Royale (2000)

July: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

June: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

[Manly Guys Doing Manly Things via Kelly Turnbull aka Coelasquid]
Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.