“Die Hard with Santa” is such a no-brainer concept that – a faux trailer in Scrooged aside – I’m honestly surprised it took this long for someone to make a movie out of it. Better late than never, however, as Violent Night delivers on its title in nearly every possible way. Hailing from Norwegian genre madman Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow 1&2, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and the demented minds of Pat Casey & Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog 1&2), this movie is one ho-ho-helluva good time.
The film opens with Santa (David Harbour, Stranger Things) take a beer break during his long Christmas Eve worknight. After well over a thousand Christmases, he’s had his fill of humanity’s inhumanity towards themselves, as well as their ever-dwindling Christmas spirit. This might just be his last ride, he says. Naturally this means we’ll have to spend the next two hours watching him regain his Christmas cheer. I mean, it *is* a Christmas movie, after all!
Similarly, there’s the Lightstone family. They’re rich, but the wealth is constantly held over their heads by a domineering matriarch, Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo, Christmas Vacation), who controls their lives, lest they be cut off. Her daughter Alva (Edi Patterson) is mother to an insufferable teen (Alexander Elliot) and girlfriend to a handsome bimbo (Cam Gigandet) who wants to a DTV action star. Her son Jason (Alex Hassell, The Boys) is estranged from his wife (Alexis Louder, Copshop), which has put a strain on his relationship with his daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady). Much like Santa, they’re all in desperate need of some Christmas magic to help melt some cold hearts and mend broken familial bridges.
Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us, this isn’t just going to be a riff on The Ref or Home for the Holidays where a dysfunctional family works their bullshit out during a holiday get-together. You see, Mama Lightstone happens to have hundreds of millions of dollars tucked away in her gigantic safe, drawing the attention of a posse of thieves, led by “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo). And that, my friends, is where the Die Hard of it all enters the picture. More precisely the Die Hard 2 of it all.
Scrooge & Co. – his goons all have codenames like Gingerbread, Krampus, Tinsel, etc. – show up in force, kill the guards and service staff, and begin to hold the family hostage. All of this just so happens to coincide with Santa’s arrival in the house. He’s there to leave Trudy a present, because unlike everyone else in the house, she’s actually on his nice list. Seeing sweet little Trudy in danger, Santa ultimately decides to take up arms against all of the naughty gun-wielding criminals and deck their halls.
Is it high art? No, but who gives a damn! It says “Die Hard with Santa” on the box, that’s exactly what it delivers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The carnage is top-notch, dished out by David Leitch’s 87North team, and Harbour is more than game to take some beatings, dish out even more, and crack holiday-themed one-liners while doing it. I’m not sure he’s ever been more charming and entertaining than he is here, which is no small feat if you happen to be a fan of Black Widow or the aforementioned Stranger Things.
Leguizamo makes for a good villain, as do the bulk of his henchpeople (Brendan Fletcher in particular), and Beverly D’Angelo is positively delightful as the foul-mouthed, coldhearted Lightstone family matriarch. The true delight of the bunch, however, is Leah Brady. Given that this is a film just as intent on delivering a wholesome and uplifting holiday tale as it is dishing out ’90s Renny Harlin-style action, none of the requisite heartfelt Christmas magic moments would work if little Trudy hadn’t been properly cast. Leah Brady knocks it out of the park on that front; not only having excellent chemistry with Harbour, but also effortlessly carrying all of her portions of the film. So much so that when she finally gets some Home Alone moments, they’re instantly cheer-worthy.
Folks, this is a winner. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s also not trying to. Wirkola and his team have delivered a highly-entertaining Christmas action flick here that delivers R-rated mayhem with a heaping side order of PG-rated heart. This is a slice of jingle bell schlock that jingle bell rocks!
Violent Night is an original action film. It was directed by Tommy Wirkola, from the screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller. The film was produced by Guy Danella, David Leitch, Kelly McCormick, Paul Barry, Brandy Hagborg, James Lin, Scott Watson, and Marc S. Fischer. It stars David Harbour, Leah Brady, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson, Alexander Eliot, Cam Gigandet, Brendan Fletcher, Mike Dopud, Andre Eriksen, Mitra Suri, Stephanie Sy, Phong Giang, Can Aydin, and Cha-Lee Yoon.