Tag Archives: C

VIOLENT NIGHT

Producer: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch and Guy Danella   Director: Tommy Wirkola   Screenplay: Pat Casey and Josh Miller   Cast: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Leah Brady, Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, Alexander Elliot, André Eriksen, Mitra Suri, Brendan Fletcher, Sean Skene and Mike Dopud    Distributor: Universal Pictures

Grade: C

This mixture of violence and schmaltz from director Tommy Wirkola (“Dead Snow,” “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”) rivals “Fatman” as the oddest holiday movie of recent years.  There have been slasher movies in which the killer dressed in a Santa suit, of course, as well as the anti-Santa of “Krampus,” but in these two the actual Santa Claus is turned into an action hero of sorts, as adept with his fists and weaponry as he is with a sleigh and his bag of presents.  Many viewers will probably hoot at the transformation, especially when done up as slickly as it is here; others may find it rather repellent.  It’s certainly not subtle.

But “Violent Night” isn’t content with being an action movie.  It wants simultaneously to be a sweet, saccharine paean to old-time values.  So it has a second hero—a tyke named Trudy (Leah Brady), who’s definitely on the nice list of Santa (David Harbour).  She’s just seen “Home Alone,” and is more than able to help Santa defeat a bunch of commando home invaders led by a nasty fellow named Jimmy Martinez (John Leguizamo) who calls himself Scrooge (he also, like the boss in “Reservoir Dogs,” assigns other code names to the members of his crew, in this case holiday-related monikers). 

And what a home!  It’s actually the palatial estate of Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), the sarcastic, heavily-drinking matriarch of the obscenely wealthy and powerful Lightstone clan.  Assembled there for Christmas Eve are her grown children, mousy Jason (Alex Hassell) and greedy Alva (Edi Patterson), along with their families.  Trudy is Jason’s daughter by his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder), who’s there for reasons of family solidarity; Alva brings her smug teen son Bert, short for the ridiculous Bertrude (Alexander Elliot), a would-be influencer constantly broadcasting himself on his phone, and a date, a martial-arts movie star named Morgan (Cam Gigandet), who wants Gertrude to finance his latest picture.  (A brochure pitching the deal is, in fact, his gift to her.)

Santa arrives during their get-together, having hoisted a few at a bar where he complained about how materialistic kids have gotten.  He’s resting alone in a vibrating recliner and enjoying the homemade cookies and Gertrude’s alcohol stock as his sleigh and reindeer wait on the roof.  Then Scrooge and his minions take over, slaughtering the Lightstone staff and security detail.  The object is to steal the three hundred million bucks Gertrude has embezzled from the U.S. government in a diplomacy-related ruse.  He has to remove it from a vault under the house before the Lightstone “extraction force” headed by hardnosed Commander Thorp (Mike Dopud) arrives, supposedly to save the day.

Scrooge holds everyone hostage, but Trudy escapes and hides out in the attic, using a “magic” walkie-talkie to contact Santa, who’d have preferred to fly off undetected but was trapped when his reindeer abandoned him.  He’ll confront villain after villain in protracted, bloody encounters wielding the sledgehammer that was his weapon of choice during his days as some sort of medieval warlord (don’t ask—he doesn’t understand the “Christmas magic” himself), while Trudy takes on a couple of Scrooge’s commandos (butler André Eriksen and icy blonde Mitra Suri) using tactics similar to but more graphically cruel than any of the slapstick traps Macaulay Culkin ever employed (which, in truth, were pretty wicked themselves).  A few commandos in the crew (like psycho Brendan Fletcher and sullen Sean Skene), which turns out to contain some unexpected allies, will meet their fates at the hands of other members of the Lightstone clan.  Naturally things come down to a final face-off between Santa and Scrooge, who vows to end Christmas once and for all, but not to worry: Santa survives, though it takes what might be called a Tinkerbelle “I believe!” moment, though “Miracle on 34th Street” is also an obvious marker.

Harbour clearly enjoys playing Santa Grouch, though he’s hard pressed to manage the whiplash switches from growling cynic to avuncular charmer, and Brady is cute as a button.  The big loser is Leguizamo, whose snarling, one-note villain is boring from his first appearance.  The rest of the cast struggle with the caricatures they’re playing, but Gigandet, Elliot, Eriksen, Suri and Fletcher have their moments.  D’Angelo and Patterson, surprisingly, come off flat.

Though modestly budgeted, “Violent Night” looks pretty rich, with special effects that are cheekily reminiscent of “lovable” Christmas movies of years gone by. Roger Fires’s production design is actually lush, and Matthew Weston’s cinematography elegant, except when he and editor Jim Page have to go into dark, dank mode during the many fight scenes, which go on much too long and often get explicitly gruesome enough to earn (along with some tough language) the R rating.  This is not a family movie, though some parents will probably watch it with their kids as all revel in the gore and supposedly witty banter.  Dominic Lewis’s score mixes holiday cheer with the usual action-movie clichés.

Sad to say, “Violent Night” may epitomize the sort of Christmas movie that will appeal to our jaded cinematic age, the pratfalls of “Home Alone” replaced by the carnage of a Liam Neeson movie even as it tries awkwardly to retain a sense of icky holiday sweetness.  But the idea of a “ho-ho-ho” cut off by a throat-slashing will not be everyone’s cup of eggnog.      

FANTASY FOOTBALL

Producers: Spencer Beighley, Jamal Henderson, LeBron James, Marsai Martin, Joshua Martin and Timothy M. Bourne   Director: Anton Cropper   Screenplay: Zoe Marshall, Daniel Gurewitch and David Young   Cast: Marsai Martin, Omari Hardwick, Kelly Rowland, Rome Flynn, Elijah Richardson, Tony Gonzalez, Adrian Eppley, Trad Beatty, Hanani Taylor, Abigail Killmeier, Tyla Harris, Isac Ivan, Tony Romo and Jim Nantz   Distributor: Paramount+

Grade: C

Fans hungry for some pigskin action on those rare occasions when games are absent from networks, cable and streaming services can find temporary relief in this lightweight Nickelodeon family comedy.  It also serves as a promotional tool for the NFL and the Madden video game franchise distributed by EA Sports; both were involved in the production, which oddly enough attributes the “teleplay” to three scribes working from a “screenplay” by Richard T. Jones, Jeremy Loethen and Tim Olgetree—a curiously tangled credit.  

The domestic side of things centers on the Coleman family, dad Bobby (Omari Hardwick), mom Keisha (Kelly Rowland) and teen daughter Callie (Marsai Martin).  Bobby is a Heisman trophy winner whose twelve-year post-college career as a pro running back has been blighted by a tendency to fumble the ball.  A series of trades has led to the family’s repeated relocations (one wonders, given his history, why any team would have wanted him at all), and now they’ve wound up in Atlanta, where he must compete for playing time with the Falcons’ arrogant young hot-shot Anderson Fisher (Rome Flynn).  And when he gets on the field, his habit of dropping the ball persists. 

Meanwhile Callie, a math wiz, is trying to make friends at her new school.  She catches the eye of the Robotics club when she demonstrates her tech skill by using her phone to turn the campus sprinklers on some mean girls, and accepts their invitation to join them in trying to win a national contest.

She also shows off her expertise on the Madden Football video game series by thrashing all the team members at a party at Fisher’s mansion.  Her dad, whom Anderson beats, is furious when he finds out that she’s accepted Fisher’s gift of a pre-release copy of an addition to the series—one celebrating him—and they argue over it in a parking lot during a rainstorm.  As they try to wrest the game away from one another, a bolt of lightning strikes it.

Though neither is hurt—rather implausible, since it sends them both flying—there’s an aftereffect: Callie’s endowed with the power to direct Bobby’s actions on the field through the game, and her aptitude on the controller, combined with her mathematical insight into pigskin strategy, enables her to turn him into an absolute phenomenon.  Soon he’s challenging Fisher’s stats in yards gained and scoring touchdown after touchdown.

Everything seems great, even after Bobby learns what an important role Callie’s playing in his triumph.  Of course there are problems, as when Nate (Elijah Richardson), the handsome robotics guy Callie gets interested in, messes with the video game and makes Bobby do some pretty weird stuff, stoking Fisher’s suspicions that something is rotten in Atlanta.  Neither father nor daughter, moreover, is keen on keeping what’s happening from mom.  And the time she has to devote to manipulating Bobby’s moves on the field means that Callie falls behind in her robotics work, endangering her classmates’ preparation for nationals.

But a real crisis comes when Callie and Bobby argue about how his family has always played second fiddle to his determination to succeed on the field.  That leads to her using her control over his moves to make him do very peculiar things during a crucial game that commentators Tony Romo and Jim Nantz can’t help but wonder about.  It brings him to his senses and, wonder of wonders, helps restore both the family dynamic and his own career.

So long as Martin and Hardwick rein in their tendency to over-exuberance—something typical in Nick fare—they make a likable pair.  The movie is basically a father-daughter piece, and so no other cast members matter overmuch but for Flynn, who really goes overboard as their voluble antagonist; director Anton Cropper, known for his television work, probably should have brought along some chill pills.  (Tony Gonzalez, who plays the Falcons coach, is, of course, a former NFL player, while Romo and Nantz are actual broadcast commentators.  None of them excel in their roles here.)  Visually “Fantasy Football” has the glossy, bright look of a Nickelodeon sitcom, and moves along like one: credit (or blame) is due production designer Steven J. Jordan, cinematographer Anthony Hardwick and editor Sarah Lucky.  The energetic, intrusive score is by Kovas. 

Except for the incessant product placement, this cable-ready concoction is an inoffensive but instantly disposable piece of juvenile football fluff.