Just about hits the balls-eye (sorry, bulls-eye) but falls short through miscalculating its target audience. A little bit of rejigging in the inevitable sequel could see this shine. Roughly, Die Hard meets Home Alone. That’s putting it a bit crudely, but swap skyscraper for billionaire’s mansion and a little boy for little girl and you get the drift.
What gets this very much over the line are the little bits of magic, as appealing as they come, and Santa has a get-out clause (literally, and no pun intended) because in dire emergency he can vanish up any nearby chimney and though he’s aware there’s magic involved he has no idea how it’s done. Plus he has a scroll to hand, a cribsheet that separates the good from the bad.
Home Alone defensive techniques have escalated since Macauley Culkin’s day, and though “You Filthy Animal” is referenced young Trudi (Leah Brady) has a mouthful of real cuss-words, plus nails her weapon of choice. It’s cleverly done how she links up with the inebriated self-pitying Santa (David Harbour) and there’s a grimace-inducing finale – the true spirit of Xmas and all – that sails close to the wind for a hardnosed thriller but par for the course for a soppy Xmas saga.
So that’s really the only problem. The picture can’t quite make up its mind in which direction it’s headed. Hard-ass with a soft center is clearly the aim, but there’s just too much gore to pull that off. Sure, some of the killings are comic, but they’re helluva bloody too. And there’s a weird backstory – even weirder than John Wick’s assassin commandments that shalt not be broken – involving (I think) something to do with Vikings and a guy who can’t die, not exactly a zombie because he’d already be dead, and thankfully he doesn’t need blood to slake his thirst, but still he’s been around for a millennium, though, truth be told, the actual date Father Christmas first appeared is not exactly set in stone.
On the other plus side, the family whose home is being invaded by villainous “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) – color and city pseudonyms all taken by previous fictional gangsters – are just plain venal, toadying up to ruthless matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) whose vault bulges with gazillions of illicit dollars. Her potential heirs, Jason (Alex Hassell) and Alva (Edi Patterson), are a cringe-worthy pair. While Jason at least is attempting to sever connections to malicious mama, Alva has named her son Bertrude in a bid to curry favour. And when push comes to shove, most of that family will sacrifice every last one of their nearest and dearest.
So, basic story, family in the sh*t, drunken Santa and little girl to the rescue.
There’s some clever twists. Jason isn’t quite the dolt you think, Alva’s macho boyfriend-cum-actor turns out to have muscular chops while Jason’s partner Linda (Alexis Louder) is quite the vengeful one.
Endearing to the last, Trudi channels her inner Macauley Culkin with a side-serving of her grandmother’s ruthlessness and, taking Home Alone as her template, effectively slices and dices her opponents. And my guess is that’s the vibe the producers were chasing – fun slaughter. They don’t miss by miles, but they do miss. And an audience that would have happily lapped up the outrageously vicious Trudi will probably not relish the rest of the gory goings-on while a John Wick audience will feel hard-done-by that even a sliver of cuteness has penetrated their hardcore world.
And it’s that rarity, an action comedy with a good few belly laffs rather than the usual situation where you see what they’re trying to do but don’t actually burst out laughing.
David Harbour (Black Widow, 2021) isn’t left to carry the picture but his cynical manner, catchphrases, and surprisingly gentle approach certainly bring it home. Leah Brady, graduate of the Umbrella Academy (2022), is New Wave Cute, soft with a hard center. Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983) can;t believe her luck at sinking her teeth into such a vicious character.
Director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, 2013) just about gets it right, especially unusual to be able to marry action and comedy, working from a screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller who co-wrote Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) which was also a matter of getting the balance right.
Great fun all round. Not sure what the title would be for a sequel but look forward to it.