1 Hit, 2 Dogs

101 Dalmatians

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Star Trek: First Contact

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Jingle All the Way

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"PLEASE HOLD ALL reviews until opening day" was the studio's gentle mandate for Jingle All the Way--even though the locally filmed comedy had its newsworthy "world premiere," a depressing adventure in megamall security and PR thought-control, over a week ago at the Mall of America. Why so protective? Just as this overly muscular blockbuster unwittingly reveals a white millionaire Republican's wimpy paranoia, the "hold all reviews" policy suggests that papers which hit the stands on Wednesdays may hold some uniquely feared power--if not to influence hordes of ticket-buyers, then at least to speak freely enough to embarrass the studio. Forthwith, I'll try to exercise that power.

Let's start by swiftly kicking the dog that is 101 Dalmatians. What could have been a playful wet kiss to kids of all ages is rendered by screenwriter John Hughes as something akin to rabies. Lacking even the slightest urge to entertain its audience, this lazy dog-napping epic mainly ties in to Ransom's theme of a rich couple's right to restore lost treasures (and to the inevitable re-release of Disney's animated original on VHS). Conversely, Star Trek: First Contact boldly goes where no studio film has gone this year by continuing The Next Generation's metaphoric tale of the Borg Collective: a group of studio execs--excuse me, slimy conformists--who enslave the minds of free-thinking people and assimilate them into their huge brain trust. Despite parallels to Body Snatchers, this isn't an allegory of communist paranoia; First Contact has more to do with resentment of the corporate contract or with computer-age fears of becoming just another chip on the circuit board.

Thus, the imperturbable Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is challenged to re-assert his individuality and to lose his cool, helped by an Earthling (Alfre Woodard) who's a model of principled, hot-headed imperfection. Even the android Data (Brent Spiner) has his "emotion chip" reactivated by a Borgian femme fatale (Alice Krige), and learns to like what he feels. Appropriately, the movie itself charts a course for humanity, beginning in a somewhat soulless and derivative manner before gradually developing the personality of a resonant blockbuster.

Not so Jingle All the Way. The year's requisite toy story, and Hollywood's umpteenth Absentee Dad tract, this pseudo-holiday heart-warmer switches the gender of Miracle on 34th Street with its tale of a workaholic father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who keeps making empty promises to his young son (Jake Lloyd). ("I'll be there" is this film's version of the Ah-nuld mantra "I'll be baaack.") Missing his kid's karate class is irresponsible enough, but when Dad forgets to pick up a Turbo Man action figure ("the hottest-selling Christmas toy ever," we're told), the fate of western capitalism hangs in the balance. Thus accessorized, Jingle All the Way forces its "high-powered businessman" to scour the shopping malls of our frigid hamlet, and challenges Flintstones auteur Brian Levant to defend his title as king of the tie-in. God forbid Arnold should have to shell out for one of those Spanish-speaking turbo men being hocked in the bad part of town-- that is, Nicollet Island.

Inevitably, this $80-million enterprise acknowledges its cultivated take on our neighborhoods, as well as its particular tastes in our media outlets. Dad and his brood hail from Edina, and the megamall represents a sort of Holy Grail in the hero's suburban quest. The anti-Planet Hollywood seems to be Mickey's Dining Car, an ominously empty greasy-spoon where a kind black chef pours a hot cup of coffee, just before the star's GMC truck gets stripped bare on that treacherous street known as West Seventh. Masquerading as in-jokes are extended cross-promotions with KQRS, WFTC Fox 29, an unseen businessman by the name of "Mr. Jacobs" (whom do you suppose is getting sucked here?), and, natch, the Star Tribune. Is it any wonder that the Strib's opening day review--its fourth Jingle piece in a week--went all the way in deeming this "the antidote to Feeling Minnesota and Fargo"?

Of course, the actual narrative will appear to argue that fatherly love means more than money (if the recipient is forced to choose), while the kid will eventually realize that he's blessed with having the real Last Action Figure in good ol' Dad. But until that time, Levant pits his taxed CEO against a comically undereducated mail carrier (Sinbad) who's desperately seeking Turbo Man himself. In a nightmare sequence, Arnold is plagued by the thought that if he fails to assert his consumer privilege, his own son might grow up to be a mail carrier.

Paging the Terminator. Jingle All the Way's huge action finale enables all the unconscious anxiety to become literal, as Arnold half-wittingly dons a Turbo Man outfit in order to duke it out with Sinbad's evil "Dementor" during a Christmas parade. A Fox 29 announcer cautions that "this could be the end of civilization as we know it," although anyone who's seen Ransom will know better than to doubt the virility of a rich white dad.

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