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'Violent Night'

Entertaining Christmas thriller is like 'Die Hard' with candy canes in a mansion

David Harbour from 'Stranger Things' as a bulky, beer-drinking, brooding Santa Claus in 'Violent Night.' Photo credit: Universal Pictures

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After the resounding success of Die Hard in 1988, we saw a slew of variations on the theme of a lone antihero in a single setting saving the day, e.g., Under Siege was Die Hard on a ship, Speed was Die Hard on a bus, Executive Decision was Die Hard on a plane, etc., etc. Now comes the gruesomely bloody, cheerfully tasteless, fantastically naughty and entertaining Christmas thriller Violent Night, which is basically Die Hard with candy canes in a mansion. 

Ho Ho Whoa! 

Directed with style by the Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and brought to us by the producing team behind John Wick and Bullet Train, with a sharp and darkly funny screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, Violent Night gives us the perfectly cast David Harbour from Stranger Things as a bulky, beer-drinking, brooding Santa Claus who grumbles about kids wanting nothing but video games and cash as he makes his rounds, stashing extra cookies into his pockets and counting the minutes until he can rest his weary bones and put yet another Christmas Eve in the books. 

After a tone-setting prologue with Santa downing pints in a British pub before taking off with his reindeer from the roof and unceremoniously puking on the wonder-filled tavern keeper below, we cut to Greenwich, Connecticut, where the wealthy Lightstone family is gathering at the heavily guarded mansion of matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Ellen Griswold herself, Beverly D'Angelo). Included in the group is Gertrude's son, Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), and their adorable 7-year-old daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady), who still believes in Santa Claus and still believes Mom and Dad will get back together and be a family once again. Oh, Trudy! You're so nice! 

Indeed, Santa's rounds take him to the Lightstone compound so he can deliver presents to Trudy - and that's when a terrorist calling himself "Mister Scrooge" and his band of armed thugs storm in, killing a number of Lightstone security personnel and employees and taking the family hostage, all in the name of securing the $300 million in cash Gertrude has stashed in a vault. Trudy manages to escape and find a hiding place. She has a walkie-talkie (just like Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard!) she uses to communicate with Santa Claus, and they work together to take down the terrorists in a number of creatively gruesome ways. (It helps that Trudy has seen Home Alone the night before.) 

What follows is an extended, insanely violent, often hilarious and bloody series of confrontations in which Christmas lights and ornaments, among other props, are used to deadly effect. Along the way, we learn of Santa's back story as a fearsome Viking warrior not unlike Odin of Norse mythology, with Harbour giving us a Santa Claus who can wield a sledgehammer like it's Thor's hammer and isn't afraid to get more than a little blood on his beard - but can still have his heart touched by a hopeful child who believes he's real. Merry Christmas to all, and to the bad guys, a Violent Night.

Violent Night

Three stars

STARS: David Harbour, John Leguizamo ad Beverly D'Angelo

DIRECTOR: Tommy Wirkola

RATED: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references

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