Dir: Brian Levant
Release Date: 1996
“A busy father vows to get his son the most sought-after action figure for Christmas but it’s Christmas Eve, every store is sold out, and he must race across town and compete with everybody else to find one”
Whilst not Schwarzenegger’s first foray into comedy, this is certainly one of his best. I love this film and watch it every year with my son (now 14yrs old) with us quoting the lines to each other throughout.
Arnold was still a legitimate action star in 1996 having made Eraser in the same year and End of Days and Collateral Damage, among others, yet to come. But this was another welcome addition to the flexing of his comedy chops and without relying on him flexing anything else.
Only one mention of his size/his muscles in this film, by Ted “You can’t bench press your way out of this one”. Obviously, they still don’t mention his accent, they never do, but that’s just one of the beautiful things about his films.
Anyway, let’s get festive and get stuck in!
We open with an episode of Turbo Man on the TV and a little boy watching it. Looks exactly like an old Power Rangers episode to me with Turbo Man and his sidekick beast, Booster, fighting the evil Dementor but the kid watching it is loving it all the same. This kid is Jamie, (soon to be Anakin Skywalker) and he LOVES Turbo Man. He double checks with his mum, Liz, that his dad will definitely be at his yellow belt Karate graduation and she assures him he will be then gets on the phone to make sure that is so.
Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) is a very busy man. VERY busy. He is a mattress salesman (?!) and he is non-stop at it. He must be quite high up, at least middle management, as he has an office, people bring him things to sign (fun fact, he actually signs Arnold Schwarzenegger), he is on the phone all the time.
“Don’t forget, you’re my number one customer”, is the way he signs off his calls and the accent makes this line great.
In fact, the accent is what makes ALL of Schwarzenegger’s lines great in every film. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every film in the World would be better if Arnie was in it!
Think of any film line and say it with his accent.
See? Much better, right? It works for all film lines!
Not even just film lines. Try talking like Schwarzenegger in everyday life. I do, it’s fun and makes me feel like a Goddam hero!
Well, anyway, Howard’s assistant is showing him some flash cards reminding him of the Karate class and he’s still on the phone to his number one customers. He even says the line to his own wife and we get the first of many wide-eyed Arnie faces in the film.
Confident he will make it, he dutifully leaves his own Christmas party and heads off straight into traffic!
At the Karate class, we meet Liz and Howard’s neighbour, Ted (played fantastically sleazy by Phil Hartman), who mentions how bad it is that Howard hasn’t made it to something so important and he pulls a great face of his own when he is assailed by local ladies asking for his ‘handyman’ help.
Meanwhile, Howard is still in traffic so sneaks into the highway shoulder to skip past only to be noticed and pursued by a motorcycle cop (Robert Conrad), who pulls him over, is less than sympathetic to his Karate class story and makes him walk the line and recite the alphabet backwards. Jamie gets his purple belt for very little and notices that his dad hasn’t made it like he promised he would.
Heart-breaking scenes. Arnie eventually arrives but obviously it is all over. Somehow, he still gets into the building and runs around until he finds only the cleaner/janitor is still there. I couldn’t help but feel that this was a dangerous lapse of security which could have led to vandalism, burglary and, unless the janitor was similarly trained in Karate, assault or even murder. Still, none of this is considered and Howard heads home to find Ted on his roof putting up Christmas lights! He’s not happy and heads inside to tell Liz of this fact. She rightly tells him to shush and go and say sorry to Jamie for letting him down. Again. Thankfully, he does exactly that and we are treated to one of the most cringe inducing scenes in movie history.
Jamie is blanking him, Howard finds his new belt and says the immortal line, “This….is really cooool”, say that in Arnie’s voice.
Seriously, do it. Amazing stuff. Add to this the fact that he ties the belt around his own head and makes Kung Fu noises while adopting a crane kick stance and this is imprinted on your mind forever more.
Howard fights his corner, “I saw you get yellow!”,
“But you missed blue.”
This only brings up the question in my mind as to why the Hell were the kids all still wearing yellow belts for their graduation then if they already passed blue?
ANSWER ME, JAMIE! ANSWER ME!!!!!
Again, not really important but just something that crossed my mind. Well, as any father would do in these circumstances, Howard suggests he just buys Jamie a big gift to paper the cracks of their relationship.
Jamie readily agrees and says he wants the Turbo Man doll and describes it in infuriating detail finishing with he asked Santa for it. Arnie gives us another wide-eyed treat and doubles it up when Liz reminds him that he said that HE would get him the doll and it was about 2 weeks ago when he signed up for such a task. Christmas Eve being the next day, there is NO chance he will procure such a doll if not already secured. Oh, Howard! You massive idiot!
On his way out the next day, using some useless excuse used about keeping the doll at the office which Liz believes, Howard meets Ted again with a reindeer (named Ted also by his fat son, Johnny) who also suggests he won’t get a Turbo Man doll on Christmas Eve and cements his unlikability by smugly telling him that he already has his son the same toy wrapped safely under the tree. Suitably pissed off, Howard is off to the shops. His day doesn’t get much better than this. It’s not quite as bad as Ethan Hawke’s Training Day experience, imagine going home and your partner asking you how your first day was in that scenario, but it’s still a pretty stressful day.
Down at the toy store, among many other people in the crowd, we get to meet Sinbad (not the sailor, though that would have been interesting) as Myron, a rundown postal worker who is also out to get a Turbo Man for his son. The crowd storms the door as soon as the shop opens and after running over a shop worker, they fight each other like animals to get to the toys. Arnie asks a repulsive store clerk where to find a Turbo Man and he laughs in his face even bringing a colleague over to join in the laughter. Being more restrained in this film than some of his previous work, Arnie doesn’t just shoot their smug faces off but he grabs them both and demands, “Where’s your Christmas spirit?”
They naturally shit themselves and are out of the film again.
Howard and Myron become immediate rivals and try to outwit each other in generally quite violent ways with some comedy falls, similar to the total ‘land on your back’ falls of Home Alone (Chris Columbus was producer), which look as painful as ever and another classic Arnie delivery of, “Aaaw, poor baby”, as he stands over Myron’s prone body.
Back at Howard’s house, Liz is baking cookies, Jamie and Johnny are playing and Ted is being a total sleazebag suggesting Liz goes to take a shower to relax while he shouts at the kids and swipes a cookie. When Howard phones home to check in, Ted answers and pisses Howard off even more by saying he will check if Liz is in the shower and that he is eating his cookies. Immortal line time…….. “Who told you you could eat my cookies? Put the cookie down! NOW!”
Enough of that, let’s get to the Mall for more festive shenanigans!
Unfortunately, in his haste to get there, Howard backs over a Police motorcycle! Of course, it turns out to belong to Robert Conrad again so there’s more comedic animosity between the two.
Due to supply and demand, the Mall toy shop is charging double price for the Turbo Man toys and running a lottery system involving small plastic balls which gives us one of the best set pieces of the film. The crowd surges and the balls are all thrown into the air leading to another huge scramble of comedy violence and classic lines with Myron even shouting a Rodney King reference as he is wrestled to the floor by manic shoppers. Howard chases one of the balls as it bounces quite unbelievably all over the Mall and lands with a small girl on her way to the ball pit. Howard tries to bargain with the girl in the pit but is naturally seen as a paedophile (only a fun kind of paedophile so the various mothers hit him with their handbags like they would no doubt do in real life in that scenario).
“I’m not a pervert! I just was looking for Turbo Man doll!”, Howard exclaims in an unusually structured sentence and just wanders off before we meet the great Jim Belushi (also starred with Arnie in 1988 movie Red Heat) as Santa calling him over and saying he can get a Turbo Man doll for him. Tony the Elf shows him a photo of the doll so we know it’s a real thing though clearly a shady old business.
Howard goes with them to an old factory which is full of Santas and elves running a production line of toys. After being charged $300 for the doll, Howard immediately opens the wrapper and discovers that the voice Turbo Man speaks in is Spanish! The doll also falls apart when he shakes the box which leads him to shout down the whole building calling them sleazy con-men in red suits, thieves and degenerates to name a few.
“In the North Pole, them's fighting words”, and fight they do as Arnie battles many a Santa and elf including a candy cane nun-chuck wielding Santa and an uncredited Verne Troyer.
Even The Big Show from the WWE shows up in Santa pants and braces, “I’m gonna deck your halls, Bub”, is his only line as he lays his massive hands on a suddenly tiny looking Arnie culminating in The Big Show punching Verne Troyer across the room and a whole army of Santas leaping on Howard.
Suddenly, the cops show up in a raid. “It’s the Grinch! Scatter!”, shouts Tony the Elf and they all scramble. Howard uses a toy Cop badge, berates the officers for blowing his undercover operation and gets the Hell out of there.
Remember when I mentioned the reindeer was also called Ted? Well that is purely for the joke we are about to enjoy in a phone call between Howard and Jamie when he asks where his mother is, Jamie replies, “She’s next door petting Ted.”
Jamie then gets even more annoying and Howard shouts at him to shut up about Turbo Man which makes Jamie upset but seems only fair.
“Damn you Howard!”, says Liz to nobody and we head back to Arnie who wanders into a diner for a coffee. You’ll never guess who else is in there, it’s Myron of course. What are the chances? They call a truce and exchange stories about being a shit dad until they hear a radio competition asking for the names of all of Santa’s reindeer to win a Turbo Man doll! They fight each other again until the diner owner tells them the radio station is just up the street.
They both run off with Arnie reciting the names of the reindeer as he runs and Myron generally being unfit until they arrive at the radio station. We are just in time to hear one idiot listener calling in and naming the Jackson 5 instead of the reindeer when Arnie and Sinbad start banging the door down and demanding to win the doll. Myron at this point threatens them with a parcel claiming it’s a bomb, we find out that the competition was only to win a gift voucher for the doll and not the actual doll itself, Myron throws the parcel and makes his escape. After unwrapping it, Howard discovers it was merely a little jewelry box and also makes his retreat where he finds Myron surrounded by cops (including Robert Conrad) and threatening them with another parcel/bomb and they both escape the building leaving Robert Conrad to shake the parcel and explode like a cartoon character, all soot on the face and spiked hair. Myron didn’t know it was a bomb of course but they carry on with their escape instead of seeing if anyone needed help.
At some point, Howard’s car has been set on fire so he gets a lift home in a tow truck only to see Ted in his house again and going to put the star on the top of Howard’s tree! We get treated to a flashback voiceover of Ted saying he had a Turbo Man doll already under his tree and Arnie slinks off to steal it while Liz stops Ted, informing him that Howard always pus the star on the tree.
Over at Ted’s, Howard is busy breaking and entering and about to burglarize the place when he is discovered by a growling Reindeer Ted. “Nice doggy”, Howard says just before he is chased all over the house, trashing each room as they tear through it culminating in setting fire to Ted’s living room, smashing the window and punching the reindeer in the face (Arnie seems to hurt animals more than most, he punched a camel in Conan, he banged 2 dogs heads together in True Lies and now this).
Well, the truth is out there now, Ted delivers the bench press line and Howard is suitably ashamed. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s time for the parade and Liz has asked Ted to take her and Jamie instead of asking Howard!
After dropping the kids off to go and get a good spot in the parade, Ted goes into sleaze overload in the car with Liz, pouring her some non-alcoholic eggnog, massaging her shoulders and calling her ‘Lizzy’. Thankfully, Liz sees through Ted’s smug shit and elbows him in the stomach, spilling eggnog all over himself.
Howard is on his way to the parade as well to try to make amends somehow and winds up literally bumping into Robert Conrad’s cop again, spilling coffee all over him and his newly bandaged hands (surely he would have been given the rest of the day off at least? He was blown up with a bomb after all).
The chase is on and Howard somehow ends up in a costume department backstage of the parade being measured up for a suit. A guy in a Booster costume is also there, chain smoking and making racist remarks (usually now edited from TV versions of the movie).
So if Booster is there, who could Howard be? Well, he ain’t Mary Poppins!
Howard is Turbo Man of course and he joins the parade on a float, waving to everyone and smiling a lot. It turns out that he has to pick a child out to win the special edition Turbo Man doll he is waving about the place. My son pointed out that you’d be gutted as a child if the float had already gone past you at this moment and I guess he is right.
Tough shit though. Of course, Howard picks Jamie as the lucky child.
“Turbo Man knows my name!”, he exclaims as he joins him on the float for some happy waving. Thankfully, this schmaltz is halted for the action finale set up as Dementor appears and, somehow, it is Myron in the Dementor costume! He has tied up the actor and replaced him.
Admirable tenacity shown by the postal lunatic.
He still wants that doll so he grabs Jamie and makes a run for it. He runs full tilt into a person dressed as a Christmas present and shouts, “Get out of the way, box!”, which I’ve always liked and for some reason he heads up to the roof of the tallest building he can find.
Howard meanwhile has discovered that his costume has a rocket pack and he flies all over the place in a manic style which would have almost certainly resulted in loss of life or lives at some stage until he finally gets the hang of it.
Talking of loss of life, Jamie is now hanging from a flagpole after escaping Myron’s evil grasp, eventually falling before being caught by Howard who flies by at just the right time. Jamie thanks Turbo Man, still not figuring it out that it’s his own dad, “You can always count on me”, he says and when Jamie wishes his dad was there to see it, he takes off his small mask for the big reveal.
Such happiness, such joy.
Myron is led away until Jamie stops the cops and gives him the Turbo Man doll after all to give to his son. He doesn’t need the toy as he has the real Turbo Man at home! Robert Conrad thanks Turbo Man and says he could do with a man like him on the Force and there’s another comedy moment as he turns to see the guy who has been the root of all his troubles all day long.
They all live happily ever after.
There is an extra, post credits scene where Liz asks Howard if he was willing to do all that for Jamie, she wonders what he got her for Christmas, Arnie’s eyes nearly pop out of his head like in Total Recall at this comment and it really is all over.
Right, here’s the deal with this one.
Everything Myron says has a point (except for “Ta-ta, Turtleman”). He plays the common man, down on his luck, struggling to get by, hates his job, bad life at home. His observations on the state of the World are cynical but true in many ways and he sees this doll as the last chance he’s got to do right.
Howard, on the other hand, is a well off guy who missed his son’s Karate class.
Somehow, our sympathy is intended to lie with Howard in this one. With all that in mind, throughout the film, Myron also commits multiple cases of assault, engages in terrorism/attempted multiple homicide of members of the Police Force and the abduction of a minor.
So when, at the end he finally does get given the doll, he is being led away by the cops and I can’t help but think he might not get the chance to see his son for many years to come and that doll will just be sitting in an evidence bag until/if he is eventually paroled.
And what’s with Jamie anyway, giving the doll away? He was whining all film about getting this bastard toy and then just gives it to the madman who minutes before tried to kill him without knowing anything of his day which led up to it or if he is just a total maniac.
Still, this is a great Christmas film and one of Arnie’s best for quotable lines. I am sure you’ve all already seen it but it is worth another view. Love it.
FAVOURITE CHARACTER: Ted (sleazebag human Ted, not the reindeer)
FAVOURITE MOMENT: Arnie chasing a small bouncy ball around the shopping mall
Harold: “I’m not a pervert. I just was looking for Turbo Man doll”. It’s the accent. It really is.
FAVOURITE DEATH: It’s not mentioned or proven but I assume the elf played by Verne Troyer died after being punched in the face by The Big Show Santa. I wouldn’t fancy my chances of survival so surely the little fella would not have had a hope.