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Film review: Jingle All the Way

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Arnold Schwarzenegger routinely alternates his film-starring duties between R-rated action thrillers ("Eraser" being the most recent) and (supposedly) family-friendly PG-rated comedies, like "Kindergarten Cop," "Twins," "Junior" and his latest, "Jingle All the Way."

But casting Schwarzenegger as an everyday, ordinary Joe is a bit like casting Tom Hanks as the Terminator.

In a physical sense, Schwarzenegger is too imposing a figure to allow us to identify with him as a typical '90s workaholic businessman. (And we won't even get into that goofy accent of his.) So, from the get-go we're looking at Schwarzenegger as an action-movie superstar who is merely performing for the cameras, whereas a real actor - like Hanks - might have lifted "Jingle All the Way" to another level.

Schwarzenegger plays another one of those movie fathers who is so caught up in making money that he's neglecting his young son (Jake Lloyd), as well as his patient wife (Rita Wilson, who just happens to be married to Hanks in real life).

The plot has Schwarzenegger realizing on Christmas Eve that he has forgotten to pick up his son's Christmas gift, an action figure based on the kids' television program "Turbo Man." Unfortunately, since it's the most popular item of the season, they've been sold out since Thanksgiving.

So, Schwarzenegger races all over town trying to track one down, continually crossing paths with a volatile postal worker on the same quest (Sinbad, who's manic persona perfectly fits the character), and a hapless local cop who is repeatedly injured in slapstick fashion (Robert Conrad, of all people). (Schwarzenegger also encounters a slippery DJ, played by Martin Mull; a slew of crooked Santas, led by Jim Belushi; and his sleazy next-door neighbor, the ever smarmy Phil Hartman . . . can't we get a restraining order to keep Hartman from being cast as this character for the 67th time?)

Though all of this is played out in predictably frenetic sitcom fashion, it is to the credit of TV-movie writer Randy Kornfield and director Brian Levant ("The Flint-stones," "Beethoven") that the first half of the film has more laughs than might be expected. The high-pitched chaos of last-minute Christmas shopping is captured pretty well, especially in a scene that has Schwarzenegger racing through a huge department store as he chases down a lottery ball to get in on a "Turbo Man" giveaway. And the campy "Turbo Man" TV show that begins the film is an amusing, campy spoof of such dumb kids shows as "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," etc.

But there are too many toppling shelves of toys, too many familiar Christmas tunes used as counterpoints to frantic action and during the film's second half, the silliness goes into overdrive until the entire movie sinks to a level that will have parents frequently looking at their watches. (And you have to wonder if young children should really be exposed to a gang of crooked Santas in a warehouse brawl?)

On the other hand, there's a funny punchline at the very end of the film - after the end-credits - if you can stick it out. Though my guess is parents may be racing from the theater long before that moment comes up on the screen.

"Jingle All the Way" is rated PG for a string of "Home Alone"-style slapstick violence (including the inevitable kick in the crotch and Schwarzenegger decking a reindeer), a few profanities and some mild vulgarity.