REVIEW: ‘Violent Night’ fails as a mediocre mishmash of a movie

David Harbour and Alexis Louder in Violent Night (87 North)

If you like crass, hyper-violent, vulgar and profane action comedies with its edges rounded just a wee bit by Christmas cheer, “Violent Night” might be the movie you’ve been waiting for. Or it might not.

The movie is a mediocre mishmash. Sorta like three-day-old, warmed-over mashed potatoes with a dash of paprika as an attempt to liven it up.

The film isn’t exactly a parody, but perhaps more like the fulfillment of the promise of the opening scene of “Scrooged,” where Lee Majors, TV’s Fall Guy and Six Million Dollar Man, plays an action hero who saves Santa’s North Pole Workshop from a terrorist attack.

The major difference is that “Violent Night” cuts out the middle man and makes Santa (David Harbor from “Stranger Things”) the ultra-violent, action-hero savior. He has a run-in with the extra-naughty, foul-mouthed terrorist, Jimmy “Mr. Scrooge” Martinez (John Leguizamo) and his clandestine underlings, who have placed an ultra-rich family under seize on Christmas Eve.

Most of the members of the family aren’t worth saving, including matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), but young Trudy (Leah Brady) has a sweet heart, and the Christmas spirit, which makes all the trouble Santa goes through worthwhile.

The film plays like a cross between poor-man versions of “Die Hard” and “Home Alone,” which can be entertaining if you are in the right mood. There are sparks of cleverness with some of the action sequences/kills and aspects of Santa’s magic, but not nearly enough to lift this movie above the level of a very guilty pleasure.

Harbor and Leguizamo are pros, and they make more out of the questionable material than was likely on the page. There is enough grit and charm that I could see some making this modern-day B movie a part or their yearly celebrations to make fun of it, but it’s also a movie that could quickly fade from our collective consciousness.

I didn’t hate the movie, but I couldn’t recommend it with a good conscience.

Grade: C-
(R) 1 hr. 52 min.

Classic Corner – Conan the Barbarian back on local big screens

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian (Universal Pictures)

The movie that set Arnold Schwarzenegger on a course for action-film stardom in the 1980s is back on the big screen for two showings at the Malco Razorback Cinema and Malco Pinnacle Hills Cinema 12 at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

The film, of course, is “Conan the Barbarian” from 1982. Based on the pulp fiction of Robert E. Howard and the popular Marvel Comics series, the R-rated sword-and-sorcery film received mixed reviews. Critics made fun of the wooden acting and equally stale dialogue from the script by John Milius and Oscar-winner Oliver Stone.

The movie’s action sequences, special effects, and set design stand out, but while Schwarzenegger looks the part, his amateurish performance plods along breathing little life into the adventure character.

Likewise Sandhal Bergman, a dancer by trade, moves beautifully as Valeria, a composite character based on Valeria from Howard’s “Red Nails” and the pirate queen Belit from “The Queen of the Black Coast,” but there’s not much on-camera chemistry between her and Schwarzenegger.

The most appealing character in the film is Conan’s sidekick Subotai (Gerry Lopez), whom Milius based on Genghis Kahn’s most trusted general from his historical studies. In many ways, Lopez carries the narrative of the film while Schwarzenegger and Bergman look pretty in the action scenes.

James Earl Jones portrays the chief villain, a sorcerer named Thulsa Doom, a composite of the Howard villain from “Kull of Atlantis” and Thoth-Amon, the villain from the Conan story “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Jones is a great actor, but this wasn’t exactly a demanding role.

The movie has some thrilling sword work and brutal fight scenes. There is also some nudity, which certainly rings true to Howard’s stories. However as kid who read Conan comics, I was more than a bit perturbed that the film was rated R, and that I wasn’t able to watch it until it arrived on HBO two years after it opened in 1982. Two years is an eternity for a teenager.

So while the film isn’t a classic in my book, I am looking forward to finally seeing it on the big screen next week.

Die Hard

Bruce Willis in Die Hard (Twentieth Century Fox)

The 1980s was the decade of the action hero with stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and a host of others righting wrongs, dealing death, and wreaking havoc in cineplexes all across America.

It was an awesome time to be a teenage movie buff, but as much as I love Chuck, Arnie, and Sly, for my money, the best action flick of the 1980s starred Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in career-defining roles of John McClane and Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.”

Director John McTiernan’s action-thriller is a classic among classics that catapulted Willis from being a TV personality on “Moonlighting” to an out and out movie star of the first order. The script allowed Willis’ charm, charisma, and humor to shine while still allowing his McClane to be relatable as a hard-working cop who uses all his wits, guile, and physicality to flaunt a terrorist attack on the Nakatomi Corporation, which employs his wife.

Rickman is just as strong as Willis as Gruber, a German criminal who is masterminding the terrorist heist. For my money, Gruber is one of the best villains in all of movie filmdom. He’s right up there with Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Darth Vader from “Star Wars,” and Hannibal Lector from “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Since its Christmastime, there might be a debate among movie fans whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.

The film certainly takes place at Christmas, although Los Angeles doesn’t really warm the cockles of my heart as the most Christmasy of settings. The movie was released in the summer, but so were definitive Christmas movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Holiday Inn.”

While I enjoy revisiting “Die Hard” every four or five years because of the aforementioned performances by Willis and Rickman, it’s not necessarily December when I do.

So for me, “Die Hard” is just a fun action picture, and not really a “Christmas movie.” But who am I to say what is or isn’t a “Christmas movie” for you.

The best thing about Christmas is that its traditions bring family and friends together. If that gathering happens to include watching Bruce Willis save the day in “Die Hard,” then as John McClane might say, “Yippie-Kai-Yay.”