2022 | rated R | starring David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson | directed by Tommy Wirkola | 1h 52m |

Die Hard clones are typically a dime-a-dozen. Since the 1988 film we’ve been treated to stories that were effectively pitched as “What if John McClane were…” on a train, on a cruise ship, on a plane, etc. It took nearly 35 years, but we finally arrived at “What if John McClane was Santa Clause”. An idea even after watching Violent Night I can’t quite tell if it is tired or inspired.

It’s Christmas Eve and father Jason (Alex Hassell) tries to use the annual family gathering at his mother’s (Beverly D’Angelo) lavish Connecticut home to reconcile with his wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) when the stressful family drama is interrupted by a heavily armed group of mercenaries (lead by John Leguizamo) looking to get into the family vault. As it’s Christmas eve, the affair ensnares Santa Clause (David Harbour) making his rounds and drags the man with the bag into a violent hostage situation that has to use his special set of Christmas magic skills to fight his way out of.

Even as a fan of both Billy Bob Thornton’s debaucherous mall Santa and a whole host of Christmas horror movies, there is just something about an actual Santa Clause character drunk, bitter and violent that makes my eyes roll at the hipster irony of it all. Violent Night lies somewhere between Bad Santa, a killer Santa horror movie and the aforementioned Christmas terrorist actioner. The problem here is both the script and director not sure how far to push the concept and in what direction. The film is constantly teetering back and forth between camp and seriousness. It has no likable protagonists and not particularly nasty villains. The script has sparks of imagination here and there, but is unable to flesh out the promise of this premise over the length of the film (which is about 20 minutes too long). That promise is to essentially make a Santa Clause version of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, cleverly weaponizing Christmas magic tropes and turn them upside down. Example: as we veer into the third act the film decides that Santa’s weapon of choice is just going to be a sledge hammer.

The other issues is Tommy Wirkola, a director I loved after Dead Snow and it’s sequel, but who has made a shaky leap to Hollywood. Violent Night suffers the same tonal issue as his Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and other famously campy stories that couldn’t find the right tone, Snakes on a Plane, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. Wirkola knows this stuff has to be played straight to work, but is mixing up where to place it. The straightness should come from the performances. If David Harbour and John Leguizamo get the joke, we will. But all these movies keep the tone itself too straight and it strangles the fun out of the film.

Violent Night’s saving grace are those sporadic moments of inventiveness.  Creatively killing off the villain used to be one of the most fun things about these type of movies and now, more often than not, someone just raises a gun and shoots them. I will say that it ends on my favorite villain death I’ve seen in a good while. One that is fun, clever and can only exist in this movie.