Monday, December 18, 2006

It's a wonderful turkey

Another December, another poll to find the worst Christmas film and again, Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1996 effort, "Jingle All the Way" takes the top spot.

Other contenders in the top 10 included Santa Conquers The Martians (which sounds bad) and two efforts from the execrable Tim Allen (The Santa Clause and Christmas with the Kranks). Now, in the face of such competition, I feel I must speak up for Jingle All the Way. It's certainly not the worst, ahem, holiday movie I've ever seen. There was something on Channel 5 a couple of years ago starring John Boy from the Waltons about a scientist investigating flying reindeer. Now that was truly appalling.

JATW's redeeming features are, in my view, legion. Not only does it star Arnie (this must rank as his best comedy) as a father attempting to get his son the last Turboman (a Buzz Lightyear-esque must-have toy) in his city, it also features the comic, Sinbad (a hero of mine since I first saw him in A Different World), as a rival dad after the same doll. If memory serves, the film also sees the late great Phil Hartman (you may remember him from such Simpsons roles as the washed-up Hollywood star, Troy McClure, and the hapless lawyer, Lionel Hutz) as Arnie's neighbour, who outdoes the Governator at every turn.

There is something to be said for a film you've seen in the cinema. Somehow they are always more special or memorable than those you only see on the small screen. That's one of the reasons why National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is so close to my heart (though clearly any movie with Chevy Chase is a cut above the usual fare). Now, I didn't actually see JATW in a cinema. In fact I watched it on a plane from Tokyo to Okinawa on about the 22nd of December 1997, but that's close enough to a big screen for me. You still have the sense of not seeing properly because of seat backs in front of you. Naturally, I was very happy to be able to watch it again on the return journey on Christmas Day itself.

As an aside, that Christmas holiday was worthy of a short film in itself - somehow I ended up spending Christmas morning translating at an asylum hearing for a paranoid Taiwanese submariner who thought numerous faceless enemies were trying to run him over or poison him. He slept with ear defenders on. It's amazing who you meet in youth hostels. Needless to say his attempt to claim political asylum was rejected. I had my Christmas lunch in a pizza parlour that day. It was all you could eat for 600 yen - yummy.

Back to the defence of JATW, the important thing is that you don't take it too seriously and I defy anyone not to chuckle when Arnie punches a reindeer on the snout in the Christmas parade. The film, set in Minneapolis (with a starring role given to the Mall of America), also provides a positive view of a Minnesota winter, something that the grimmer, yet better received Fargo and A Simple Plan singularly fail to do. There are many worse films with sickening "holiday" messages that make you want to vomit. Love Actually, anyone? Ernest Saves Christmas? Home Alone 2? Home Alone 3? Lord of the Rings? These are the real Christmas turkeys, which you can go and stuff, as far as I'm concerned. Any Sinbad fan who's ever lived in Minnesota will have a soft spot for JATW: I know I do.

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