Del reviews ‘Violent Night’

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Violent Night” Starring David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Beverly D’Angelo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder and Leah Brady. Directed by Tommy Wirkola. 1 hour, 52 minutes. Rated R. Prime.

Del’s take

You were expecting the David Harbour action-comedy “Violent Night” to be “Die Hard” re-imagined? Think again. “Violent Night” is a strange synthesis of action, comedy and fantasy, as if Disney, The Hallmark Channel and John McClane had combined their energies to create a new telling of “The Night before Christmas,” one fortified with violence, gushy sentimentality and, of course, a stiff slug of eggnog.

“Violent Night” is the story of Santa Claus – yes, THE Santa Claus (David Harbour) – who finds himself bleary-eyed and half-crocked at a London bar on Christmas Eve, besotted with the spirit of Christmas cynicism. And why not? His job as deliverer of gifts to all the good boys and girls of the world no longer has relevance. Children these days, he rants to fellow bar patrons, are nothing more than greedy, bloodthirsty little capitalists who want more, more, and more while giving nothing in return, not even their belief in the jolly old elf.

Meanwhile, the uber-rich Lightstone family has gathered at the family mansion to go through the motions of celebrating Christmas. In reality the event is a chance for selfish daughter Alva (Evi Patterson), her actor boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigadet) and sulking teenage son Bert (Alexander Elliot) to suck up to hard-drinking, foul-mouthed matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo). Son Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) linger in the background, the more civilized and less materialistic of the sibling groups. Jason’s priority is making his daughter’s Christmas wish come true – that he and ex-wife Linda get back together so the three of them can once again become a family.

As a hung-over Santa arrives at the family mansion (Do people this wealthy deserve gifts from Santa?) and stumbles about, tossing gifts under the tree and helping himself to expensive brandy, a band of terrorists led by a Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo) invades the premises, kills the staff and takes the Lightstone family hostage. Their goal is to make off with the $300 million in government contract dollars the Lightstone family business received for work they never did. The money is hidden in Gertrude’s safe, which is said to be impregnable.

Santa wants nothing to do with this drama and tries to sneak away, but his reindeer are spooked by the gunfire and bolt to parts unknown, stranding Santa. Then he is drawn into the conflict by an accidental encounter with a bad guy, and the mournful pleadings of young Trudy, who shows some evidence of grasping the true meaning of Christmas. That’s enough to transform Santa into a pissed-off fly in the ointment, to borrow an expression from John McClane. When that happens, bloody mayhem ensues.

The violence is jaw-dropping – perhaps “jaw-breaking” is a better description. In one scene, as Santa carries on a soulful conversation with Trudy over a walkie talkie, a recently dispatched bad guy’s face burns to the bone courtesy of the holiday lights he was strangled with. And Santa himself is not immune to having his nose busted, his lip split open and his abdomen gutted. If Santa’s suit wasn’t red enough when the movie opened, it is by the closing credits.

Harbour turns in a solid performance as the jaded, burned-out Santa, and Cam Gigadet is funny as the brainless action movie star Morgan Steel. But it’s difficult to pick out particular actor or role as good or bad, as the creative staff can’t seem to decide what kind of movie it should be. A manic, absurdist comedy? An action movie, in the tradition of “Die Hard” or “The Long Kiss Goodnight”? Or a holiday fantasy about the true meaning of Christmas. The writers, and director Wirkola, appear to want all those things, and in the attempt it becomes none of them.

Ultimately “Violent Night” amounts to nothing more than its title, a violent Yule season encounter, with a nod to Charles Dickens, and Dr. Seuss. It’s not a bad movie per se, but it’s not memorable and will never achieve the cult-like status of a “Die Hard” or “Home Alone.”

I grade “Violent Night” as a B-.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.