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Violent Night Review

December 1, 2022 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Violent Night - Still 1 Image Credit: Universal Studios
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Violent Night Review  

Directed By: Tommy Wirkola
Written By: Pat Casey and Josh Miller
Runtime: 112 minutes
MPA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

David Harbour – Santa Claus
John Leguizamo – Mr. Scrooge
Beverly D’Angelo – Gertrude Lightstone
David Hassell – Jason Lightstone
Alexis Louder – Linda
Leah Brady – Trudy Lightstone
Edi Patterson – Alva Lightstone
Cam Gigandet – Morgan Lightstone
Alexander Elliot – Bertrude Lightstone
Mike Dopud – Commander Thorp
AndrĂ© Eriksen – Gingerbread
Brendan Fletcher – Krampus
Stephanie Sy – Sugarplum

When Universal Pictures initially previewed Violent Night during its studio showcase at CinemaCon 2022, the sizzle reel left a memorable impression. The sizzle reel made it clear that the film was going to be a fun Die Hard-style action-comedy sendup. However, one major omission from the CinemaCon sizzle reel is the fact that David Harbour’s heroic action-hero version of Santa Claus is, in fact, the genuine article.

Violent Night’s setting, a world where Santa Claus exists, where he must reluctantly face off against a “Naughty List” group of baddies, adds to the film’s quirky appeal. Those elements elevate Violent Night as a worthy entry on holiday season movie favorites. Violent Night is the R-rated, holiday action-comedy for fans who grew up loving films such as Ernest Saves Christmas, Home Alone, Scrooged, and Christmas Vacation.

David Harbour’s Santa Claus is established early on as the real McCoy. He has a sleigh, flying reindeer, possesses Christmas magic, a list that tells him who is naughty and who is nice, and a magical bag of gifts. Unfortunately, while Santa Claus has been real this whole time, he has lost his Christmas spirit. Santa has become jaded and cynical over the world’s greed, lack of goodwill, and yuletide cheer.

Santa is nearly ready to call it quits when he’s unwittingly drawn into a dire conflict. During a routine stop, Santa runs afoul of some cruel, ruthless mercenaries led by the cunning “Mr. Scrooge” (Leguizamo). The mercenaries take a wealthy family, the Lightstones, hostage, including the young child Trudy (Brady), who loves Christmas and still believes in Santa Claus. Since Trudy is a kind little girl who loves her parents and made his Nice List, it’s now up to Santa Claus to rescue Trudy and her family.

The admittedly goofy premise could have easily fallen apart, but director Tommy Wirkola showcases writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller’s clever script to near perfection. He marries the sensibilities of a wacky Christmas comedy with that of an action-thriller. Writers Casey and Miller establish a heightened reality that brilliantly sells how Santa Claus exists in the “real” natural world. The script also weaves an organic backstory for Jolly Old Saint Nick, hinting at elements of wider worldbuilding.

The center of what makes Violent Night work so well is, undoubtedly, David Harbour’s performance. He is exceptionally cast here as the blue-collar veteran Santa Claus. Harbour’s deadpan, sardonic charisma as Santa makes him a believable, relatable character. He has a modern, cynical attitude and worldview, but he still lacks a broader grasp of some modern technology, “gizmos,” and “gadgets.” Harbour’s transformation of old-time Christmas sayings into rousing action-hero one-liners, executed with straight-faced delivery, is hilarious.

Harbour never descends into over-the-top scene-chewing with his performance. He plays it straight, which adds to the experience’s humor and entertainment. In one scene, Santa fights for his life against a ruthless henchman and is forced to use whatever he can find as a makeshift weapon, even Christmas ornaments. In another sequence, Harbour performs a Santa Claus iteration of that scene in movies where the action hero has to conduct improvised medical treatment on a gruesome wound. Harbour’s Santa performs the act using Christmas candles, wrapping paper, and ribbons. Violent Night is a comedy. The film knows it’s a comedy, but Wirkola and the writers still maintain authentic action movie style and scope.

Many of the cast members are fairly solid. Other than Harbour, the real standouts are Leguizamo, playing a good old-fashioned action movie villain, and the amazingly charismatic Beverly D’Angelo as the Lightstone family’s venomous matriarch, Gertrude.

Leah Brady forms a cute and warm friendship with Santa that imbues the movie with genuine heart, so the plot maintains a sentimental, warm, and gooey center amid all the gory, bloody mayhem. Wirkola wisely manages Brady as Trudy, utilizing her just enough to keep the character from weighing down the film too much. The narrative also involves Trudy in a rather terrifying, yet ironically clever, deconstruction of another classic Christmas comedy.

The action scenes are a high point of Violent Night. The action and stunts were overseen by Jonathan Eusebio, who previously worked on the John Wick films, so the action and stunts in Violent Night have a similar flair. Wirkola’s fight scenes are very refreshing. They follow the main action beats and strikes very well without constantly cutting away to a nauseating degree. When someone meets a grisly end, the camera shows the death in graphic detail. The film’s violence is exaggerated and over-the-top, so it’s not done in a gritty, brutal, or realistic fashion. The violence, blood, and gore are showcased in a cartoonish style, which works nicely with the holiday themes. However, the R-rated action and fight scenes still scratch an itch in a way that so few contemporary action movies manage to achieve.

Violent Night has a few small missteps. One is a subplot involving a purloined fortune that is a tad overcomplicated. Most of the Lightstone family members are depicted as comedically amoral, intentionally unlikable individuals. The movie could have handled their arcs with a bit more depth in light of where the plot takes the characters.

Aside from Trudy, Alexis Louder’s Linda is the only likable member of the bunch. In the film’s defense, that is intentional because Linda only married into the family. The subplot involving her estranged husband, Jason Lightstone (Hassell), suffers from a rather wacky turning point. The Lightstone family antics tend to detract from the fun of Harbour’s Santa who attempts to avoid and outsmart Scrooge’s gang. That said, these issues do not massively weigh down the overall experience.

The film knows exactly what it wants to be and delivers on its premise. David Harbour embraces the material and elevates what easily could have been a disaster if portrayed without his unique wit, charm, and charisma. The script is clever, the action is fun, and it works on multiple levels as both a heartwarming family Christmas film and an irreverent action-comedy.

Violent Night is one of the year’s most purely satisfying cinematic experiences.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Violent Night is the R-rated Christmas action-comedy that adults have been waiting for. It is a wildly entertaining, enjoyable film. David Harbour is perfectly cast and sells the material of a blue-collar worker unwittingly thrust into a flight-or-flight action-hero situation, where the reluctant action-hero just happens to be the real Santa Claus. Tommy Wirkola and the producers at 87North know how to stage great action mixed with cartoonish, over-the-top violence. The film works on multiple levels as an exceptional comedy, action movie, and a heart-warming Christmas-time family film. Violent Night is festive fun.