NEW YORK – If young Macaulay Culkin, in the guise of Kevin McCallister, could battle bad guys at Christmastime in the widely loved 1990 film “Home Alone,” why not Santa Claus himself? That would seem to be the thinking behind director Tommy Wirkola’s holiday-themed action comedy “Violent Night” (Universal).
The upshot, however, is a strange blend of bloody mayhem and rank sentimentality that goes down like a gulp of sour eggnog.
David Harbour plays a jaded version of the “real” Santa. When we first encounter him in a bar, despair over the materialism displayed by contemporary children has not only driven the once-jolly jelly belly to hard drinking – it has him entertaining the possibility of abandoning his annual trip around the globe. Violent Night Google reviews
Then he chances to get mixed up in the plight of 7-year-old Trudy (Leah Brady). The scion of a vastly wealthy family, Trudy’s initial problem is that her estranged parents, Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder) are on the path to divorce. As for the other members of the clan, led by mean, foul-mouthed matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), they’re greedy, selfish and perpetually quarreling.
Trudy’s situation takes a sharp turn for the worse, however, when a criminal mastermind, codenamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo), takes her and her bickering relatives hostage. He’s out to break into Gertrude’s vault.
To make plausible the retribution Kris Kringle proceeds to dish out to Scrooge and his minions, screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller give him a novel backstory that Christian viewers will likely find irksome. Far from having any connection, however vague, to St. Nicholas, this Santa is a reformed hammer-wielding Viking who now draws on his experience as a ruthless warrior to come to the rescue.
What follows is an orgy of deliberately gruesome bloodletting as bones are crushed, skulls bashed in, and one villain is even fed into a woodchopper. Having, as an early scene informs us, recently watched “Home Alone” for the first time, Trudy assists her deliverer by laying booby traps in the McCallister manner, but with far more nauseating results.
The tone of the narrative makes it clear that the audience is meant to take this rampage of homicide and torture as a wild, exhilarating joke. Kill, Santa, kill! Maim, Trudy, maim! It’s a cinematic stocking full of anthracite.
Look for: An implicit celebration of marital commitment.
Look out for: Over-the-top gory violence, occasional scatological humor, about a half-dozen instances each of profanity and milder swearing and pervasive rough and crude language.
The Catholic Moviegoer’s guidance is U – unsuitable for all. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted; under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.