Friday, December 02, 2022

Violent Night, It’s Definitely a Christmas Movie

There is a long-standing debate whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This one definitely is—and it consciously riffs on the Bruce Willis franchise. You could say it is Die Hard at family Christmas gathering, with Santa Claus playing the John McClane role. Regardless, it will not be a silent or holy night during Tommy Wirkola’s Violent Night, which opens nationwide today in theaters.

Santa is pretty burned out, because most people are naughty and even the nice kids only want video games or cash. Frankly, he probably would not even be stopping at Gertrude Lighthouse’s stately manor if her extremely nice granddaughter Trudy were not staying the night. Except for her father Jason, maybe, the rest of the Lightstones are a nasty venal lot. Of course, her mother Linda does not count, at least according to her grandmother. However, the Lightstones will not be the naughtiest ones in the house when “Scrooge’s” band of armed robbers take them hostage.

As luck would have it, they start shooting while Santa is still enjoying Trudy’s cookies and Gertrude’s brandy. Claus has gotten a little cynical, but he can’t help worrying about Trudy. He also still remembers his mortal life as Norse warrior, before he assumed the jolly mantel, presumably through some means not unlike that of
The Santa Clause.

There is no question this is a Christmas movie, because it has Santa. It also slyly riffs on Christmas favorites, like
Home Alone and Die Hard 1 & 2 in knowing and spectacularly violent ways. For instance, somebody gets it with an icicle. However, Wirkola and co-screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller probably outdo the body counts of the individual Die Hards, if not the entire series. Honestly, it is way more satisfying to watch Santa wield a war-hammer than anything the emasculated Thor did in the last few MCU releases.

Admittedly, the middle is a little draggy, but the fight scenes in the first and third acts are as beautifully choreographed as a top-notch performance of
The Nutcracker. David Barbour (who co-starred in Sleepless, the American remake of the French Die Hard-in-a-nightclub, Sleepless Night) is wonderfully grizzled and world-weary as Santa. Weirdly, this is one of the least caricatured portrayals of Kris Kringle.

John Leguizamo (who was in the
Die Hard-ish hijacking movie, Executive Decision) is more cartoony, but in the right way, as the evil mastermind, Scrooge. Alexis Louder (who was in the Die Hard-in-a-police station movie, Copshop) nails what might be the film’s funniest line and helps anchor the film with her down-to-earth presence as Linda Lightstone. Plus, Beverly D’Angelo (from the Vacation series) chews the scenery diva-ishly as Gertrude, the matriarch.

Violent Night really isn’t for kids, even though it would probably put a stop to their naughty behavior for at least through Boxing Day. There is blood and a bit of vomit, but it has the sort of gleeful madness that made Wirkola’s masterful Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead such a joyful viewing experience. It is like Fatman, but with greater blood splatter. Highly recommended for holiday viewing, Violent Night opens today (12/2) at the AMC Lincoln Square.