Ho-Ho-Horror! ‘Violent Night’ is bloody holiday fare

Gray Areas

Entertainment Editor Andy Gray

Maybe if John McClane had worn a Santa suit while defending Nakatomi Plaza, more people would consider “Die Hard” a Christmas movie.

That’s what I expected “Violent Night” to be, that David Harbour would be playing a man with a particular set of skills (ex-military, ex-law enforcement) now dressed up as Santa Claus for a sad, but noble reason (the only way he could be near his child and his estranged wife at Christmas was disguised as Santa or he had a child who died and the only thing that brings him temporary comfort is making other kids happy at the holidays).

Then he finds himself in the wrong place at just the right time to put those skills to use to thwart the robbers who crash the party.

That’s what I assumed from seeing the poster and half paying attention to the advertising for the film, but “Violent Night” is something far more bizarre and audacious.

Harbour isn’t playing a guy dressed as Santa. He is Santa, albeit more “Bad Santa” than “Miracle on 34th Street.”

“Violent Night” is all the tropes of holiday movies woven into a horrifically gory action film and delivered with a sneer. It’s the perfect movie for someone who considers The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” their Yuletide favorite, and “Violent Night” makes “Father Christmas” sound like “O, Come All Ye Faithful” by comparison.

How a warrior from 1,100 years ago became St. Nick isn’t clear. Harbour’s character more than once explains he doesn’t really know how all this Santa business works, but he has a bag that magically produces presents, eight reindeer who leaves buffalo-sized piles on the roofs they land on and — most importantly for the plot — still retains his skills wielding a Thor-like sledgehammer.

Jimmy (John Leguizamo), who goes by “Scrooge,” leads a team of skilled criminals who also have “Reservoir Dogs”-like nicknames (Sugar Plum, Gingerbread, Krampus) that is in search of $300 million in government money that is hidden in the compound of wealthy matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo, whose casting no doubt is a wink to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”), who is surrounded by her greedy, groveling family on Christmas Eve.

With the help of Trudy (Leah Brady), the closest thing to a likable person in the entire Lightstone clan and a character who conveniently saw “Home Alone” the night before, Santa tries to save the day.

Trudy’s “Home Alone”-inspired “pranks” cause more than slapstick violence — these criminals become the Wet Bandits because they’re blood-covered — and director Tommy Wirkola (writer-director of the “Dead Snow” Nazi zombie movies) knows how to stage vicious mayhem.

The biggest problem with the movie is the Lightstones are such a reprehensible lot. Even with dozens dead before the closing credits, viewers might wish the body count was higher.

But this isn’t a movie anyone watches for the plot. Viewers will be too busy picking out the homages to countless other holiday favorites (although there was nothing involving a tongue and a pole, which seems like a missed opportunity for “A Christmas Story” joke). The screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller also enjoys juxtaposing the festive and the foul, like choreographing some of the grisliest fights to a sappy Bryan Adams song called “Christmas Time,” and providing plenty of other moments designed to generate a chuckle and a cringe simultaneously

Look for “Violent Night,” which opens this weekend, to become a holiday tradition for anyone who has programmed the television to skip the Hallmark and Lifetime channels in December.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.


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