This film can be a very firm love it or hate it, but on the whole it has been accepted as a staple in the Christmas family film schedule. It balances mild slapstick violence, comedic characters and mad-cap chases for very easy watching for all ages, which is the main goal of this. It’s not a film disguised as something else; it is sheer family fluff.
Appealing to anyone who has been in Howard’s situation, it focuses well on the brutality and desperation of parents who seek out the hot toys and gifts for Christmas at the very last minute, turning them into mindless animals who will do what they can to get what they want. Schwarzenegger manages to use his general dead panning and slow burning temper to great effect as he uses his comedic side as a bumbling desperate Dad who makes enemies with everyone he meets. Sinbad can come across a little over-enthusiastic in his comedic side-kick role bouncing off the efforts of Schwarzenegger, and is a little irritating in places, but his family friendly manner is harmless enough and nothing short of what you’d expect.
Young Jake Lloyd gives a good performance as little Jamie, showcasing emotive disappointment and ecstatic joy through the ups and downs of the film as he and Schwarzenegger form a pleasant enough bond to keep the main moral tale of appreciating and valuing your family over anything running in the background, as does Rita Wilson as long-suffering wife Liz; always bubbly and pleasant to watch.
However it’s Phil Hartman who manages to steal a lot of his scenes with that slimy yet loveable nosy neighbour Ted who is the rival of Howard in terms of being a “perfect” family man. Hartman has a wonderfully wicked way of delivering his lines in a way that you know HE knows how much more favoured he is in the community than Howard, and their bickering and covert digs at each other aren’t as common as they could have been, which is a shame as they are some of the more funnier moments of the film.
Topped with lots of dry one-liners from Arnie’s family man, mixed with a cartoonish blend of violence and chaos, it’s that sickly, sugary Christmas family nonsense that you can’t help but find a little soft spot for at the right time of year with the spirit of the season. Apart from the finale which descends into an overloaded blend of weak CGI, cringe-worthy character redemption and slapstick moments, the film in general is likeable and enjoyable with a fitting soundtrack, energetic performances and a short enough running time to not outstay it’s welcome.