by George Wolf
Maybe director Tommy Wirkola was kicking back with writers Pat Casey and John Miller one night, arguing about whether Die Hard was a Christmas movie. A few cold pops later, they’d swapped out John McClane for Santa Claus, added Die Hard 2 and Home Alone to the guest list, and Violent Night was born.
David Harbour is a hoot as a hard drinking Claus who’s not very jolly anymore. Kids are all greedy “little shits” these days, nobody believes, and maybe it’s time to hang up the sleigh.
But when he’s dropping off toys for bona fide nice list member Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady, a cutie) on Christmas Eve, Santa becomes the monkey in the wrench.
Trudy’s grandmother Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo, nice to see you) is obscenely wealthy, so the evil “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) and his gang have invaded the festivities at the Lightstone compound. They want the millions hiding in the family vault, but they hadn’t planned on a red-suited party crasher and a little kid’s booby traps.
Santa’s not barefoot, but Wirkola (the Dead Snow films) and the Casey/Miller team (The Sonic the Hedgehog films) are not shy about re-creating sequences straight from the Die Hards and Home Alone. They do at least name check both films, and once the season’s beatings begin the film takes on a self-aware, R-rated vibe that’s plenty of ornery fun.
But what Trudy wants most this year is for her Mom (Alexis Louder, so good in Copshop) and Dad (Alex Hassell, The Tragedy of Macbeth) to get back together, and Violent Night can’t help undercutting its subversive streak with a nice, safe glass of milk and cookies.
The film backs away just when it could have been decking the halls with some raunchy hilarity, and that’s disappointing. This Santa likes his snacks with some “pre-War” brandy, and his hammers of the sledge variety. And when Violent Night is reaching into that brand new blood-soaked bag, it’s boughs of whiplash smiles.