I’m pretty sure a movie like “Violent Night” doesn’t need a 1000 word analysis. Even just from its title, you can quickly decide if this is a movie for you or not. The line in the sand is pretty clear; you’re either down for a beer drinking, sledgehammer wielding, foul mouthed Santa Claus violently killing bad guys on the naughty list, or that sounds like the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard of. Frankly, both points of view are true, but “Violent Night” largely delivers on just about everything you would want if you’re into this sort of thing. It takes the “Die Hard” formula and subs out John McClane for Santa Claus and Hans Gruber for Codename Mr. Scrooge. Yes, really. When stripped to its bare bones, “Violent Night” is about as formulaic as it gets, even managing to sneak in some “Die Hard 2” elements with a sprinkle of “Home Alone.”
All of these familiarities are actually where “Violent Night” shines. The film works best when it embraces the balls to the wall ridiculousness baked into its premise, and when David Harbour and John Leguizamo are able to let loose and go ho ho for it. Unfortunately, “Violent Night” doesn’t always play to its strengths, with an overstuffed script that stifles the fun with needless family sentimentality. This causes a lot of the film to feel tonally imbalanced, shifting from uninteresting family squabbles and power dynamics to over the top, tongue in cheek Christmas violence. When Harbour’s Santa is swinging his big hammer bashing heads in, “Violent Night” is gleefully O Holy Shit with its clever kills and laugh out loud silliness.
Directed by Tommy Wirkola from a script by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, “Violent Night” tells the story of a wealthy family who is taken hostage by mercenaries looking to steal $300 million in cash in the family vault. The mercs just happen to begin their heist right as the REAL Santa Claus (jaded, drunk, and fed up with his job) is delivering presents while enjoying some 1938 Brandy (because he didn’t like the milk) and some homemade cookies left out by the youngest girl in the family, Trudy. She’s a believer in Santa and Christmas, and because she’s been so good this year, Santa Claus is coming to town, checking his list twice, and leaving lumps of coal (and other things) for the bad guys on his naughty list. Can Santa save Trudy and her family and also save his own Christmas spirit? Only violent, VIOLENT deaths will tell.
Casey and Miller’s script proves to be the weakest part “Violent Night.” There is no logical reason a film this simple should ever come close to pushing the 2 hour mark. This is an 80 minute action comedy at best, and the script seems to want to pretend like it has more to say when it really has no business saying anything at all. The longer we spend with the family, the less likable anyone and everyone becomes. Even Trudy’s parents Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder) who are suppose to be the good parents in a bad, wealthy family become insufferable at times. They are given very little to do by way of actual purpose but being asked to carry unearned emotional depth. Hassell in particular feels wildly miscast, and you’re never quite sure what he’s suppose to be doing in “Violent Night.” There’s some funny moments and funny one liners that get passed back and forth between family members, but it never quite become as fun as “Violent Night” is when it’s just Santa going full John Wick on thugs.
It’s all Harbour and Leguizamo who really sell it. Both are having an absolute blast playing opposites, and both clearly understood the assignment. Harbour’s Santa is delightful, and “Violent Night” turning him into a grumpy old man who gets out delivered by Amazon is fun take on a classic character. Leguizamo as the heist leader chews through scenery with his dead pan delivery of intentionally cheesy dialogue. He gets the most Christmas puns, and delivers them with sincerity but always manages to remind us that he too is in on the joke. There’s a few other characters of note that have some funny moments, but “Violent Night” is best when it sticks to the good vs evil face off of its two stars. It doesn’t work without Harbour and Leguizamo working overtime to sell it to us, and when they’re given the opportunities to work their Christmas magic, “Violent Night” is a goddamn blast.
For the most part, “Violent Night” provides a nice break form the awards heavy tear I’ve been on lately. There’s no Academy buzz for anything here, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes you just need a movie to be big and loud and dumb and have a grand old time doing it. It’s not quite the non stop thrill ride the premise would suggest, and does get in its own way from not leaving more on the cutting room floor. But “Violent Night” is still a ton of fun where it needs to be, and is sure to be the kind of crowd pleasing, action comedy Christmas has been missing. Christmas Magic, indeed!
And yes, “Violent Night” proves that “Die Hard” is in fact a Christmas movie. It’s not a debate. Don’t @ me.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Violent Night” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.