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.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch. Directed by John Moore. 97 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

Let’s do the numbers. The numbers of objects destroyed in recently released “A Good Day to Die Hard,” starring Bruce Willis as berserk New York cop John McClane.

I estimate 3,000 acres of windows, 83 cars and trucks, and at least three dozen people were smashed or blown to bits. And that’s just in the first 15 minutes of this film, the fifth in the “Die Hard” franchise.

Mayhem is what I expect when Bruce Willis reprises his McClane character but the action must be sensible. The first four “Die Hards” possessed useful violence. “A Good Day,” which has McClane and his CIA agent son administering punishment to Russians in Moscow and Chernobyl, was a blur of destruction.

Between flying cars and discovery of a stash of weapons-grade uranium, the McClanes move toward repairing their broken relationship. Apparently, there’s nothing like blood, brain splatter and radioactivity to bring a father and son closer.

R-rated “A Good Day” is almost completely flawed. Its counter double-cross is as predictable as my son’s reaction when I tell him to do a chore.

McClane’s son, Jack, is played by Jai Courtney. His biceps are bigger than my head but Courtney’s physique and good looks can’t compensate for his uninspired performance. Jack the CIA man has no charisma. Jack isn’t particularly likeable. Jack is a dolt whose aged father has to rescue him again and again.

The movie’s weakness could be attributed to poor screenwriting or the director’s over-reliance on action, but I fault Willis.

I was bored by the movie because Willis was bored by the movie. His one-liners were delivered without flourish or joy or that subtle exclamation that Willis always managed in past “Die Hards” when he survived the unsurvivable.

Recall the momentous and frenetic scene near the end of the fourth installment, “Live Free or Die Hard.”

McClane is driving a tractor-trailer on an elevated interstate. His nemesis, a computer hacking nut job, sics a Marine Corps F-35 on poor McClane.

The Lightning II targets McClane with missiles, blowing away pilings that collapse part of the interstate.

Next comes the cannon.

Shells blow holes in the tractor-trailer. It’s almost tipped on its side but McClane presses on.

He ends up on a piece of inclined interstate as the truck burns. More cannon fire. McClane rolls out of the truck and falls onto the tail section of the F-35.

Then, a piece of debris is swallowed by the fighter’s hover fan and it explodes. Out of control, the F-35 begins to rotate, flinging McClane onto another piece of battle-damaged, slanting highway.

The battered cop slides down the gritty road to land on his feet. As McClane limps from the wreckage – truck, aircraft and roadway all smoking – he looks back, grins and says, “Whew.”

Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Perfectly executed. Perfectly understated. Perfectly unbelievable and perfectly plausible simultaneously.

None of that happens in “A Good Day.” It’s droll and the movie’s special effects come nowhere near to rescuing it. After this “Die Hard,” the franchise should have no trouble dying easily.

Del’s take

One night in 1988 I visited a local movie theater to catch a movie called “Die Hard.” I had few expectations – the movie starred a television actor whose work seemed incompatible with the badass requirements of an action hero.

I came away with my mind officially blown. “Die Hard” was a classic. Every aspect – acting, script, pacing, even the score – was first rate. I saw it again and when the video came out, I happily sprang $25 for the VHS tape.

What a difference 25 years makes.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” is a ridiculous farce – not so much an action movie as a disaster flick, and the disaster is the movie itself. Fans of the original movie and its scrappy protagonist, John McClane, will be shaking their heads and declaring the franchise dead. Another dud like “A Good Day” will cement that demise.

The shark has definitely jumped Nakatomi Plaza.

Mladen has already filled you in with the plot details. I’ll add the first 10 minutes of the movie are boring beyond description, and make little sense. When the action commences it is a pointless destructionfest with every car east of the former Iron Curtain smashed beyond comprehension, and no attempt made to elaborate on the overall direction of the movie. I found myself wondering if I were watching a POV rendition of a video game player’s chapter of “Grand Theft Auto.”

Worse, Bruce Willis’ character, John McClane, is reduced from a hapless but insurmountable everyman whom trouble seems to find, into a mumbling accessory whose inane and humorless pronouncements contradict the film’s subtext that while he is old, McClane still has much to offer the world of crime-fighting.

Next come the awful cliches – McClane is estranged from his son yet flies halfway across the world to rescue him from a Russian jail where he is being held on suspicion of attempted murder. The two meet amidst a chaotic situation and spend the next hour snipping at one another, the son constantly reminding the dad of how his absence ruined the son’s life until finally, near the film’s climax, the two reach a kind of rapprochement that you just know will have them walking off into the smoky, debris-filled sunset shoulder to shoulder, if not arm in arm, as the movie limps to its closing curtain.

Missing is the sharp-witted detective with the snappy comebacks whom every bad guy underestimates, replaced by a grumpy pensioner who ceaselessly complains his vacation has been spoiled by a thankless child. “A Good Day” lacks the single most important ingredient of a “Die Hard” film – fun.

Ironically, on the same day I saw “A Good Day” I also watched “Skyfall,” the latest James Bond installment. It deals with a similar theme, that of an aging crime fighter who may have lived beyond his usefulness. But “Skyfall” is Mozart beside “A Good Day’s” bubblegum pop. Smartly written and skillfully directed, “Skyfall” proves there’s hope for the “Die Hard” franchise.

If Sam Mendes decides to take on another failing action hero property, I can only expect John McClane to gleefully declare, “Yippy kay yay, …”

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and public information officer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.