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 Netflix.

“The Christmas Chronicles 2” Starring Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Julian Dennison, Jazhir Bruno, Darlene Love, and others. Directed by Chris Columbus. 115 minutes. Rated PG. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Kurt Russell as Dexter in “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.” Charming and prescient. Russell as Jack Burton in “Big Trouble in Little China.” Funny and athletic. Russell as Snake Plissken in “Escape from New York.” Kick-ass awesome and honorable. Russell as MacReady in “The Thing.” Perfect and human. Russell as a demigod in the second “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Nicely two-faced. Russell as Santa Claus in “The Christmas Chronicles 2?” Yup, he pulled it off.

I’ll let Del, the artistic, detail-oriented plot summary know-it-all blowhard describe “The Christmas Chronicles 2” storyline below. But, it’s enough here to note that Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) do PG battle, with support from a couple of kids, to save Christmas and the soul of an elf gone bad.

“Chronicles 2” is a neat story with good enough acting by everyone, with one exception: Russell. He’s the standout in this film. And, I’ll be damned, if his singing – that’s right, singing – isn’t good, too.

You’ve probably registered by now that I consider Russell one of the world’s greatest actors. It’s possible that merely his presence in “Chronicles 2” is enough to make me put on rose-colored glasses before I review the film. Not so. It’s clear that Russell had enthusiasm for his role. It’s that enthusiasm that carries the film. Russell’s Santa Claus is what the former St. Nick ought to be, a tough guy with a big heart.

We meet Santa as he mushes his flying reindeer in low-level pursuit of the dastardly Yule cat, an intimidating creature with, as it turns out, a coward’s will. Santa is as adept at maneuvering his sleigh as Plissken a glider, MacReady a flamethrower, or the Guardian’s demigod a planet. Russell’s and Darlene Love’s vocals in “The Spirit of Christmas” is boosted by their addictive fervor. The uplifting song, backed by a troupe of dancers, rocks.

Be patient with Mrs. Claus. Hawn seems a bit, I don’t know, stiff, uncomfortable, somewhat slightly off when we’re introduced to her character, but she gets better as “Chronicles 2” moves along.

The principal children in “Chronicles 2,” Kate and Jack are portrayed adequately by their actors. Belsnickel, the wayward elf is OK, too. I didn’t consider any of them unlikeable or unsympathetic, but they weren’t all that likeable or sympathetic either.

By the way, it seems that you don’t have to watch the original “Chronicles” before watching “Chronicles 2” to enjoy the latter. There’s enough backstory in “Chronicles 2” to satisfy curiosity about “Chronicles 1.”

I don’t recommend that religionists, particularly soulless evangelical muthers and counter-progressive Catholics who support imbecile lame duck poser president Trump and his immoral, nonwhite people-hating administration, watch this film. The movie has “Christmas” in its title, but Christ plays no significant role. In some ways, “Chronicles 2” is a Santa origin story and it uses the star of Bethlehem to help carry the plot.

I have no urge to put “Christ” back in “Christmas” as will be displayed by yard signs and bumper stickers sure to go up in the next couple of weeks in my part of Florida. For me, Christmas is about presents, the company of family, and good food. For the “Chronicles 2,” Christmas is the time of year for all people everywhere to come together to share good will and express hope for a better future. Hear, hear … as long as I get presents.     

Russell gets an A+. “The Christmas Chronicles 2” is B-ish. “Elf” remains my favorite Christmas movie with real people and “Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer” my favorite animated Christmas film.

Del, take it away. Try to avoid the pedantic, will you?

Del’s take

Hmphf. Mladen telling me not to be pedantic is like Hitler telling Stalin not to be mean.

It was my suggestion we review “The Christmas Chronicles 2,” folks. That’s right. I went out on a limb, after having once been stung by our deviation from the sci-fi/horror/action formula by reviewing “The Jane Austen Book Club,” aka “Plan 9 from Palo Alto.” I still have sympathy stomach cramps after that one. While “Christmas Chronicles 2” was nowhere near as bad, it is no “Reservoir Dogs.”

Because Mladen was too lazy to review the plot, I’ll fill you in:

Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) is now (because she also starred in the original “Christmas Chronicles” released in 2018) a typically entitled teenager who is pissed because her mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) dragged her and her brother, Teddy (Judah Lewis) to Cancun for the Christmas holidays along with new boyfriend Bob (Tyrese Gibson) and his son, Jack (Jahzir Bruno).

(Sheesh, is that enough parenthesis for you?)

Kate would rather be home for the holidays with her friends, the snow, and her angst. Mom moving on in life after Dad shuffled off this mortal coil was not part of Kate’s unified field theory and like every other teenager in every other movie in which a parent passes on, Kate wants to punish Mommy Dearest for allegedly “forgetting about Dad.”

She hatches an evil plan to catch an early flight back to the frozen wasteland of home, but things go off the rail when Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), an elf who has fallen from grace, snatches Kate and young Jack as part of his own evil plan. Via wormhole they’re transported to the North Pole and left in the cold for Santa (Kurt Russell) to rescue. Santa carries them through the protective shield surrounding Santa’s Village (Mrs. Claus’ Village?) and Belsnickel hitches a ride inside so that he may steal the Christmas star, a kind of lodestone for the Star of Bethlehem that powers the village and makes our capitalistic, consumer-driven Christmas hell possible.

What ensues is a series of mildly amusing vignettes barely held together with a gristle of plot. Suffice it to say that along the way snotty Kate will learn not to be such a selfish, moody brat. All the other trifling conflicts get wrapped up in a sparkly red bow. Spoiler? Well, no. These movies are as predictable as the depressing deficit in my checking account at the end of each month.

I won’t tell you “Christmas Chronicles 2” is a bad movie. It’s not. It’s stupid and irritating and has plot holes bigger than a collapsed Christmas star, but it’s not bad, not like “The Jane Austen Book Club.”

But it did irritate me. Every year, starting about mid-November, we’re inundated with so-called Christmas movies about those people … the ones with halogen teeth and taxidermed eyes who live in a Norman Rockwell vision of Christmas where the snow is virginal and the trees decorated in symmetrical splendor. Everything is “Stepford Wives” perfect, and the characters manage their tiny holiday peccadilloes with such gentle dexterity you wonder if they’ve ever stubbed a toe or broken a nail.

C’mon. We all know our teeth are yellowed, our eyes bloodshot, the snow will turn to muddy slush and the tree looks like it was decorated by a tweeker. But that’s OK because life is life. Let’s have a Christmas movie where Uncle Bob has to change his underwear because he made the mistake of trusting a fart.

It’s possible. I recommend “The Homecoming,” a 1971 movie starring Richard Thomas and Patricia Neal. It was the genesis of “The Waltons” TV series that aired for nine years starting in 1972. The story is about a Depression-era family in rural Virginia waiting for the father to come home on Christmas Eve during a blizzard. It accurately and effectively portrayed the desperate poverty of those years, and the simple yet heartfelt hopes and dreams of the people who endured that terrible time. It was way better than any frothy confection from The Hallmark Channel or, in this case, Netflix.

“Christmas Chronicles 2” is way too preachy and precious for my tastes. I watched it, I didn’t hate it, and Kurt Russell was awesome (the kid who played Jack was also awesome). But before watching a “Christmas Chronicles 3” I’d want to get my blood sugar levels checked.

People who enjoy the occasional sip of feel-good holiday movies will get their eggnog’s worth from “Christmas Chronicles 2.” Just don’t expect a shot of rum in that glass.

I grade it a B-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.