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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Movie Reviews: New Releases for Dec. 2

Violent Night, Darby and the Dead, The Inspection and more

Posted By on December 1, 2022, 9:00 AM

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click to enlarge David Harbour in Violent Night - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • David Harbour in Violent Night
Darby and the Dead **
A hybrid of The Sixth Sense and Mean Girls sounds just weird enough to work—which this story kind of does, and kind of doesn’t. It focuses on Darby Harper (Riele Downs), a Southern California high school junior who returned from a near-death experience that took her mother’s life with the ability to see and communicate with dead people. That ability proves most inconvenient when Darby’s queen-bee bully Capri (Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho) dies, and turns her haunting of Darby into a demand for a memorial send-off party. The character tension is built around weirdo loner Darby getting a makeover from her dead frenemy, with all the expected questions of how Darby will deal with her newfound status. There’s a bit of dialogue snap and some nice performance chemistry between Downs and Cravalho, but mostly the script by Becca Green is content to make its way through well-worn territory about teens resisting the intoxicating effects of being popular, particularly in the social-media era. Director Silas Howard adds little from a visual standpoint, giving everything the flat look of a 1990s Disney Channel tween-com; the quickly-dispatched prologue makes it feel more like the pilot for a series than a stand-alone feature. A handful of solid gags aren’t quite enough to make up for mashing supernatural apparitions and teen satire into something so generally flavorless. Available Dec. 2 via Hulu. (PG-13)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules **1/2
See feature review. Available Dec. 2 via Disney+. (PG)

The Inspection ***
See feature review. Available Dec. 2 in theaters. (R)

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams **
See feature review. Available Dec. 2 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (PG)

Violent Night **1/2
Tommy Wirkola—the filmmaker who gave us Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and the zombie Nazis of two Dead Snow features—clearly understands the appeal of a high-concept premise. But when you sell a film as “ass-kicking Santa Claus,” you really shouldn’t spend quite so much time on peripheral nonsense. David Harbour plays Santa as a deeply-disillusioned eternal presence who finds himself in the middle of a hostage situation when a master thief (John Leguizamo) and his team of mercenaries engineer a Christmas Eve heist at the rural mansion of a super-wealthy family. Fortunately for those hostages, Santa has a past as a Viking warrior on which to draw. Wirkola and his screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog) are pretty straightforward about tipping a red fur-lined hat to holiday-set predecessors inlcuding Die Hard, Home Alone and Gremlins, but do so with their own uniquely ultra-bloody spin. And Harbour is having an absolute blast as the un-jolly old elf, committing himself to a Santa having nearly as hard a time as grown-ups believing that he still matters. Beyond the creative carnage, unfortunately, is a lot of stuff involving the captive family, notably young Trudy (Leah Brady) hoping for a Christmas miracle to mend the strained marriage of her parents (Alexis Louder and Alex Hassell). Mostly that stuff generates strained humor that feels like an SNL parody of Succession, and an attempt at “true meaning of Christmas” sweetness weirdly out of synch with the impalements and dismemberments. When you’ve got ass-kicking Santa, you really need to lean into the material that makes people go “ho-ho-holy shit.” Available Dec. 2 in theaters. (R)

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