Partly cloudy skies this evening will become overcast overnight. Low 67F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph..
Partly cloudy skies this evening will become overcast overnight. Low 67F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: December 5, 2022 @ 5:26 pm
‘Violent Night’ is in theaters Dec. 2.
‘Violent Night’ is in theaters Dec. 2.
The premise behind “Violent Night” is something so straightforward and entertaining on its face that it’s a wonder no one has managed to make this exact movie until now. “Santa fights the bad guys” is nothing new, of course, and the idea of a Santa-driven action movie is so pervasive that “Scrooged” made a fake trailer for one way back in 1988. It was never a question of if this movie would get made, but when we’d finally see it.
Now, “Violent Night” is here, and the question that remains is whether or not the film can ever grow beyond the appeal of its core plot hook. Yes, it could be fun to watch Santa trounce a bunch of bad guys on Christmas Eve, but is “Violent Night” a good movie, or just a good idea?
Happily, though the film certainly has its share of shortcomings, and seems to think it’s much more transgressive than it actually is, I came away from “Violent Night” buoyed by its overall sense of fun and warmth. This is R-rated holiday comedy done right, even if it never quite goes as far as the trailers might lead you to believe.
The film begins with Santa Claus (David Harbour) weighed down by the burdens of modern Christmas. He’s sick of the cynical, commercialized culture of it all, annoyed by kids who want nothing but wads of cash and video games, and convinced that the real spirit of the holiday has long since been left behind.
But he still has a job to do, and his Christmas Eve route takes him to the palatial country manor home of the Lightstone family, where matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) has assembled her family for a Christmas Eve gathering, surrounded by catering staff and a crack security squad.
Among the guests is Trudy (Leah Brady), Gertrude’s granddaughter, whose Christmas spirit has yet to be broken by the wider world, even as her family bickers and schemes around her. Because she believes so strongly, Trudy’s father (Alex Hassell) gifts her a walkie-talkie that he bills as a direct line to Santa himself. It’s just a little bit of festive fun, but when a ruthless mercenary (John Leguizamo) and his band of thugs storm in to rob the Lightstone house just as Santa’s settling in for some milk and cookies, Trudy finds that her direct line just might be the thing that saves her family.
There are other wrinkles within the plot, including a vault supposedly filled with tens of millions of dollars, the interfamilial plotting of the Lightstone family, and the looming separation of Trudy’s parents, but the meat of the film is, of course, Santa going into fight mode in order to help out the one little girl left on his route who still seems to believe in him. It’s there that the choice of Harbour to play Jolly Old Saint Nick really starts to work in the movie’s favor. Harbour is, as his work on “Stranger Things” has proven, very good at playing the put-upon tough guy who’d rather be doing something else. His Santa is a wounded old warrior whose emotional scars are as tough as his physical ones, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor or his sense of fun, and both come in very handy in long scenes where Santa simply has to figure out what his next move might be.
It’s an inspired casting choice, and even when other things in “Violent Night” aren’t quite working, he holds the whole film together.
So, what doesn’t work? Well, there’s nothing about the film that’s especially, glaringly wrong, but at times it’s hard to see it as anything than other than a riff on “Die Hard” or “Home Alone,” and not just in terms of stylistic tendencies.
Those two films are formative to the Christmas movie machine, of course, but at times “Violent Night” is less inspired by them and more openly pulling entire gags from them. It’s distracting, even a little off-putting, and it plays into one of the film’s other issues: Its overreliance on the concept at hand to sell us on the story.
Yes, Santa starring in an action movie is a good idea, even a great idea with the right actor in the red suit. But whole swaths of the film pass in which “Violent Night” asks us to follow meandering, low-tension plot developments simply because the concept is cool.
It doesn’t ever seem quite as ambitious as its trailers and its overall attitude would like us to believe, both in terms of the action sequence and in terms of the balance between gore and heart, and that bogs the film down.
Still, there’s plenty here to celebrate, from Harbour’s exceptional lead performance to Leguizamo’s deliciously nasty villain to a few flashes of welcome Santa magic that spice up the action. “Violent Night” might not be the next “Die Hard,” but if Christmas action movies are what you’re into, it’s well worth hopping in the sleigh to check this one out.
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