VIOLENT NIGHT (2022) lives up to its name.
It’s certainly violent. The killings in this Santa Claus action comedy… yes, you heard right. A Santa Claus action comedy… are over-the-top horror movie brutal and bloody. This one is not for the squeamish. Director Tommy Wirkola seems to use violence to get a reaction from his audience, hoping that the killings are so insanely gruesome the audience will laugh. It’s a gamble that only partially works.
And that’s because while VIOLENT NIGHT may be violent, it’s more vile than diverting. I didn’t really laugh all that much.
VIOLENT NIGHT stars David Harbour as Santa Claus, and in this movie, Mr. Claus is more comfortable drinking hard liquor than eggnog, and that’s because he’s depressed, fed up with the world’s children who he laments are all selfish, thankless brats, who are never thankful and only want the next best thing. They open their presents and two seconds later are already bored with them, wanting something else. This might be an interesting point, but the movie isn’t interested in developing it. Plus, methinks Santa in his drunken state may have forgotten that there are plenty of children in poverty in the world who don’t fit this description.
Again, VIOLENT NIGHT isn’t interested in any kind of social commentary, as it tries desperately to be a “fun” action comedy. Harbour as Santa Claus is fun at least, but even his wisecracking tough guy Santa shtick gets tired long before the movie comes to a close. Still, it’s an inspired bit of casting. Harbour is known these days as Sheriff Jim Hopper on the Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016-2024), and he is indeed excellent on the show. He’s been in lot of movies as well, and these days he’s a fun actor to watch. I enjoyed watching him here as the heroic action hero Santa Claus, even if the rest of the movie was pretty gosh darn awful.
And that’s because the plot of this one involves one of the most unlikable set of characters you can think of. We are invited inside the rich Connecticut home of a wealthy American family, who are as dysfunctional as they are affluent. None of these characters interested me in the least. The one person who seems not to be on Santa’s naughty list is young Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady) who still believes in Santa Claus, and her one wish is that her mom and dad could get back together. Gag!
Anyway, a gang of ex-military types led by a leader who goes by the name of Scrooge (John Leguizamo) commandeer the estate and take everyone hostage, as they plan to steal all the money in the vault below the home and eventually kill all their hostages. Of course, Santa Claus also happens to be in the house at the time, and because Trudy reaches out to him, he vows to save her. Before you can say “ho, ho, ho,”… actually you may be saying “ho hum” long before that!…Santa springs into action and the fight to the death is on.
This one might have been fun if it could have figured out what kind of movie it really wanted to be. On the surface, it’s DIE HARD (1988) meets HOME ALONE (1990) meets THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974). Leguizamo looks like he walked off the set of DIE HARD 20, and he and Harbour’s Santa square off throughout, with Santa filling in for Bruce Willis’ John McClane. HOME ALONE is referenced throughout, and at one point Trudy sets up booby traps for her pursuers, in a sequence which tries to pay homage to the iconic John Hughes movies. It’s one of the more violent and ridiculous sequences in the film. And Santa laments throughout the movie that dang it, no one believes anymore!
Blah, blah, blah.
All of this could have been fun had it been handled better. The screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller creates some of the worst characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. The Lightstone family are as disinteresting as they are wealthy, and they are described as one of the richest families in the nation. So, there you go. Some of the characters are played for laughs, and others we are supposed to take seriously. They are all unwatchable. And the movie is built around these folks? Not a wise choice.
David Harbour’s Santa Claus is enjoyable for about half the movie, but he’s a one-note character, and he grows dull long before this one ends. Even his one-liners aren’t funny.
Other than Harbour, John Leguizamo gives the best performance in the movie, as the lead meanie, Scrooge. He plays things straight throughout, so at least we know where he is coming from. Leguizamo’s performance stands out because it’s too good for this movie. The rest of the film can’t figure out what the heck it is, but Leguizamo is on point from start to finish. He’s one guy you don’t want to mess with. This is the second straight movie where Leguizamo has played a character without a real name. His code name is Scrooge here, and just a couple of weeks ago he starred in THE MENU (2022) as a character known only as the Movie Star.
Director Tommy Wirkola lays the violence on thick, which would have worked better for me if the story and the characters had caught my attention, but they did not. Midway through this one, I was bored. Wirkola, known for his DEAD SNOW zombie movies, also fared better with his fairy tale actioner HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013).
And alternate takes on Santa Claus have been done before and done better. In fact, just a couple of years ago, Mel Gibson… yeah, I know he’s on most folks’ naughty list… starred in a movie called FAT MAN (2020) that was very similar thematically to VIOLENT NIGHT, as Gibson played a disgruntled Santa who supplements his dwindling Christmas business by freelancing for the U.S. government, and who then finds himself taking on a hitman hired to kill him by a child angry over receiving coal in his stocking. Both films are dark action comedies. But FAT MAN was much more subdued and was consistently moody and dark, and as such its subtle humor worked, and Gibson was actually really really good in the lead role.
VIOLENT NIGHT isn’t focused at all. Its humor is in your face and as a result not very funny. It has some of the worst written characters I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time. And its over the top violence only takes it so far. Even veteran actors David Harbour and John Leguizamo, in spite of their best efforts, can’t save this one.
VIOLENT NIGHT wants to be an adult version of HOME ALONE but ends up being a juvenile version of DIE HARD.
I can’t recommend this one. It’s as ugly as those Christmas sweaters you have collecting dust in your closets.
I give it one star.
Four stars- Excellent
Three stars- Very Good
Two stars- Fair
One star- Poor
Zero Stars- Awful