[Screen It]


(2022) (David Harbour, John Leguizamo) (R)

Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

Action: A disillusioned Santa must contend with armed mercenaries who've taken a girl and her family hostage to steal $300 million.

It's been a rough past few years for Santa Claus (DAVID HARBOUR) who's grown disillusioned with the holiday, especially delivering gifts to ungrateful, bratty kids. After boozing it up to get through Christmas Eve, he sets out for his next location, the palatial estate of Gertrude Lightstone (BEVERLY D'ANGELO) whose granddaughter, Trudy (LEAH BRADY), has just one Christmas wish. And that's for her parents, Jason (ALEX HASSELL) and Linda (ALEXIS LOUDER), to reconcile their differences and get back together.

Joining them at Gertrude's mansion is Jason's sister, Alva (EDI PATTERSON), who's hoping to displace him in their future inheritance line, along with her egotistical actor husband, Morgan (CAM GIGANDET), and their teenage son, Bert (ALEXANDER ELLIOT). The unexpected guest for the evening is Scrooge (JOHN LEGUIZAMO) who's arrived with his team of highly trained mercenaries whose goal is to find and steal Gertrude's ill-begotten stash of $300 million.

Santa manages to fend off one of those mercenaries and then goes to escape. But when he lays eyes on Trudy, he has a change of heart and decides to use his long-buried fighting skills to save her and her extended family by dispatching all the naughty bad guys.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

One of the things you learn in screenwriting classes -- which also applies to nearly every other form of writing -- is the use of dichotomy to create a degree or two of interesting elemental contrasts and thus pique viewer interest. Something like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is a prime example of just that.

But a favorite genre and setting combo for that is violent action films set in the unlikely temporal period of Christmas. From the fairly tame home invasion comedy "Home Alone" to a number of slasher films (such as "Black Christmas" and "Silent Night, Bloody Night") to the dark comedy meets monster movie "Gremlins" to more R-rated offerings such as "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard," some movies have made a killing -- no pun intended -- turning end of the year holiday festivities on their head.

The latest such flick to use that very dichotomy -- and one that gives a new twist meaning to the lyrics found in "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and plays opposite of those found in its namesake, "Silent Night" -- is the definitely not for kids uber-violent, and decidedly R-rated "Violent Night." Something of a not remotely subtle riff on the above Bruce Willis flick with just a brief inclusion of material lifted from the Macaulay Culkin one, the offering comes from director Tommy Wirkola and screenwriters Pat Casey & Josh Miller.

In it, David Harbour plays a decidedly less than jolly ol' Saint Nick who's drowning his disillusionment with Christmas and delivering gifts to greedy, ungrateful kids at a local watering hole. The tone of the film is then set when he takes flight with his reindeer-pulled sleigh and proceeds to graphically projectile vomit onto a woman down below him. If you can stomach that, the rest of this decidedly tongue-in-cheek flick -- that reminded me quite a bit not only of "Die Hard" for obvious reasons, but also the Bob Odenkirk unlikely hero gets beat up while kicking bad guys' butts action flick "Nobody" -- might be right up your alley.

The next stop for Santa is the palatial estate of a ruthless rich lady, Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D'Angelo chewing up her profanity-laced dialogue and then some), where her adult children have dutifully shown up for a highly unlikely fun holiday get-together. First and foremost, there's son Jason (Alex Hassell) who's estranged from his wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), but they've come together for the sake of their young daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady), who still believes in Santa and hopes he can bring her parents back together again.

There's also Jason's sister, Alva (Edi Patterson), who isn't interested in pretenses regarding getting more than her share of their uber-lucrative future inheritance. Her husband (Cam Gigandet) is a smarmy and egotistical actor only sort of known overseas, while their teenage boy (Alexander Elliot) is consumed by his social media presence. But he doesn't get to post any updates when the caterers cut the Internet connection so that they can go all Hans Gruber and team on the family, with John Leguizamo showing up as the mercenary ringleader who goes by the code name, you guessed it, Scrooge.

Stumbling upon their desire to crack open the high-tech safe and extract $300 million, Santa then proceeds to make them all wish they had been good, for goodness sake. And all of that's accomplished using bare fists, a bag of billiard balls, a recently sharpened candy cane, an ice skate, and a mallet as the unlikely hero makes haste and waste of the bad guys.

Yes, it's about as derivative as they come -- there are so many elements lifted from "Die Hard" (the downtime chats via walkie-talkies, the jerky/smarmy/egotistical guy, a marriage on the rocks, the master villain who's seemingly thought of everything except for the presence of the outsider, etc.) that I'm shocked someone didn't play some Ludwig van somewhere along the way -- and the only way not to mind is to simply go along for the goofy, gory, and gung-ho ride into Christmas Eve mayhem.

Yes, it's over the top (and then some) and no, it's not remotely for everyone. But it's the kind of flick that elicits squirmy and giddy oohs and aahs as Santa takes out those on the naughty list. "You better watch out | You better not cry | You better not pout | I'm telling you why | Santa Claus is coming to town." So is "Violent Night" which rates as a 6 out of 10 for leaning into exactly what it advertises with reckless abandon, glee, and yes, even some traditional, feel-good holiday spirit.

Posted December 2, 2022

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