If you are going to make a movie with Santa Claus as an action hero, you have to get the tone exactly right.
If it’s too silly, the whole thing could wind up feeling like a bad cartoon, and if it’s too serious you run the danger of being too grim for the audience to truly buy in to the ridiculous premise.
“Violent Night” swerves dangerously close to both extremes, like Santa driving the sleigh home after one too many egg nogs, but manages to keep things on the road enough to deliver a gleefully-gory good time.
The key to this movie working is the casting of David Harbour as Santa Claus. Harbour is an actor with a physical, menacing presence that is crosscut with a gentle vulnerability. He rode this combination of threatening and fatherly to fame on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” and here he cashes it in as a butt-kicking St. Nick.
This mashup of Christmas-cheer and bloody mayhem begins with an increasingly-disillusioned Santa Claus drunkenly making his rounds on Christmas Eve.
Things hit a snag when Santa visits the home of the cloying and shallow uber-rich Lightstone family led by cold-hearted matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo). A group of ruthless mercenaries led by John Leguizamo invades the Lightstone estate looking to execute a multimillion-dollar heist.
Santa’s first instinct is to fly away from trouble, but when he sees the bad guys terrorizing young Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady), the only person in the house on the Nice List, Santa decides to stand his ground and dispense some yuletide justice.
“Violent Night” is a self-aware goof, a stocking stuffer for fans of hard-boiled action movies of the 80s and 90s. There’s even a nice little sequence that serves as an homage to the “Home Alone” movies while also pointing out the extreme violence that gets laughed aside in those movies.
Director Tommy Wirkola keeps things moving along so we don’t have time to think about how ridiculous this all is, and he even finds some space for Harbour to give the movie a little heart and bring Santa’s colorful backstory to light.
This isn’t a movie you’ll want to watch while curled up in front of the fire with the whole family; but, it’s the perfect bit of grown-up fun for those looking for something to get them in the holiday spirit, but need it a little edgier than a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon.
“Violent Night” knows what it is and delivers the goods for action fans, wrapped up with a bright-red bow.
“Violent Night” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.