“Violent Night” is dumb beyond measure, deliriously hyper-violent, and a glaring clone of countless other movies (just with a Christmas time setting). But here’s the thing, this holiday action-comedy is proud to be all of those things. In fact, it’s exactly what director Tommy Wirkola and the screenwriting duo of Pat Casey and Josh Miller are going for. Their firm devotion to their vision is certainly commendable. It’s also what makes the film wear out its welcome well before its numbingly goofy (and proudly blood-soaked) final act.
David Harbour plays Santa Claus, donning the classic red suit and white beard but with a far from festive snarl. We first meet him on Christmas Eve chugging beer at a pub in Bristol, England. Disenchanted with the greed and overall lack of Christmas spirit in the world, the not-so-jolly elf lets out his frustrations to his makeshift drinking buddies before hopping on his sleigh, upchucking all over the bartender (a drunk barfing – there’s a new one), and flying off to continue his deliveries.
Meanwhile in Greenwich, Connecticut, an estranged couple, Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell) and his wife Linda (Alexis Louder), are taking their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) to the excessively lavish Lightstone estate, the home of Jason’s crude and obscenely wealthy mother, Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) who’s hosting a Christmas Eve party for her family. Between the staff, the security detail, and the team of caterers, it’s far from a cozy affair. But that’s hardly a concern for the garish and self-consumed Gertrude.
Already at the party is Alva (Edi Patterson), Gertrude’s shallow, boozy daughter; Morgan (Cam Gigandet), Alva’s husband and a low-rent action movie star; and Bert, Alva’s obnoxious son from her first marriage and a wannabe social media influencer. They all come together for a night of upper-crust indulgence, fake affection, and family posturing.
But just as the money-grubbing Lightstones are set to begin their festivities, the caterers pull out automatic weapons and start mowing down Gertrude’s staff and security detail. Leading the assault is “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo), a holiday-hating mercenary who fires more dopey Christmas one-liners than bullets (a gag the movie never seems to grow tired of). Scrooge and his team aren’t just their to crash the party. No, he’s there for the $3 million in cash that Gertrude has locked up in a state-of-the-art vault.
What the goons didn’t count on was Santa Claus who stops at the Lightstone compound to leave a present for Trudy (she’s on his nice list). But after he encounters one of the mercs, Saint Nick finds himself forced into action. From there this “Die Hard” knock-off pretty much plays just as you would expect, with Santa as the John McClane character, Scrooge playing a poor-man’s Hans Gruber, and several heavily armed henchmen – some trying to open the vault while others try to track down the poison pill that threatens to derail their heist.
The film shamelessly rips off several other movies, but in the case of “Die Hard”, it’s too much to even be considered an homage. But thanks to its Christmas setting, “Violent Night” is able to have some fun all its own. And that’s fairly entertaining for a while. Unfortunately for me, the film reached a point where I needed more than a hard-R spin on a Christmas movie. But Wirkola and company are relentless, milking their gimmick dry and then still pressing on for another 30 minutes or so.
One bit I did enjoy was its tip of the hat the “Home Alone”. We get about a ten-minute sequence that I won’t spoil, but it sees Trudy going full-blown Kevin McAllister but with much more gruesome results. And despite the lazily conceived potty-mouthed Santa bit, Harbour is (to no surprise) really good in his role. There’s not much depth or nuance in the character (despite the writers trying to manufacture some), but Harbour’s natural personality makes his Santa semi-interesting.
“Violent Night” desperately wants to be a new holiday cult classic, but it’s hardly something that’ll leave a lasting impression. Ultimately it is aggressively what it is. It tries to add some emotional layers by throwing in a couple of sudsy scenes along the way. But in reality, the movie mostly seems interested in pushing its R rating, and it loses itself in that relentless pursuit. It’ll be a blast for some. But for those who burn out on its gimmick, I can see it being an endurance test. “Violent Night” is out now in theaters.