It seems like it would have been a good elevator pitch. Take two Christmas “classics” and cross them together. Imagine Santa going all “John McClane” on a group of hostage takers at a home invasion while a young girl does her part to bring the bad guys to their knees by channelling her inner “Kevin McCallister”. That, in a nutshell, is VIOLENT NIGHT.
Twas the night before Christmas
And Santa wasn’t very jolly
The kids only wanted to have videogames
So he boozed it up, by golly.
In a semi-drunken stupor, Santa (David Harbour, BLACK WIDOW) and his reindeer make it onto the roof of the multi-chimneyed mansion of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo, CHRISTMAS VACATION), who is “celebrating” the holiday with her completely dysfunctional family. There’s son Jason (Alex Hassell, SUBURBICON; TV’s COWBOY BEBOP), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder, BLACK PANTHER), their moppet daughter Tru (Leah Brady), and Gertrude’s daughter Alva (Edi Patterson, KNIVES OUT), her C-list actor husband Morgan (Cam Gigandet, TV’s THE O.C.) and their Justin Bieber-wannabe media influencer son Bert (Alexander Elliot). It doesn’t take long before their evening together is interrupted by a man who goes by the codename of “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo, THE MENU; JOHN WICK), who knows that Gertrude has $300 million in ill-gotten government money stashed in her vault in the estate’s basement. What Mr. Scrooge and his team don’t count on, though, is that someone else is in the house, and he knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.
VIOLENT NIGHT takes more than just a sly wink to DIE HARD and HOME ALONE, and even refers to both films on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller (the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG movies, which should give you a pretty good idea right there of the pair’s ability to put together a funny script) weren’t able to develop the story beyond the aforementioned elevator pitch. In the end, VIOLENT NIGHT becomes a nearly two-hour repetitive slog where Santa metes out cold justice on the bad guys, often using various holiday ornaments as his weapons. Sure, Santa rattles off some good lines but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve already seen them all. What you don’t see in the trailer, though, are all the gags involving men’s nether regions and all the F-bombs that get dropped by everyone in the cast except Tru. A Christmas miracle, indeed.
While Harbour is well cast as a gruff St. Nick who has a backstory straight out of THE NORTHMAN, the rest of the cast is merely fodder for the film’s various gags. The big problem is that the film doesn’t know which lane it wants to be in. Its language and violence give it a well-earned R rating in the US (or IIB here in Hong Kong) but then there are scenes that are clearly pitched to younger audiences. The smaller problem is that it’s about 20 minutes too long, with far too many scenes where ceilings and Christmas trees get shot up by AR-15s. I really don’t understand America’s fascination with semi-automatic weapons but that’s another matter.
VIOLENT NIGHT opened in Hong Kong cinemas last Thursday (December 1st) and in other markets over the weekend. It has the potential to be a good film but instead opts to go for the low hanging seasonal fruit to get its laughs. If that’s good enough for you, then you’ll enjoy this movie. If, however, you like your movies to have a modicum of intelligence, then wait for it to go to the streaming services… or not.
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