Written and Directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms.
Starring Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Shaun Benson, Paulino Nunes, Chance Hurstfield, Michelle Lang, Deborah Grover, Bill Turnbull, Michael Dickson, Robert Bockstael, Mikaël Conde, Sean Tucker, and Michael Dyson.
Santa Claus must contend with a hitman sent from a disappointed child.
There is an outrageously dumb fun concept at the center of Fatman that the writing/directing Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms (previously known for the wonderful hidden gem Small Town Crime) have done everything from miscalculating where the fun comes from, stretching the insanity thin, adopting an overly serious approach, and shockingly of all, fail at giving the characters much of anything interesting to do. On paper and as the story develops it’s all bonkers, but the execution is dry; it’s like a snowflake that dissipates as soon as it lands on your tongue. The novelty is fun while it lasts, which is unfortunately rather short.
It’s a shame considering the idea here is nothing short of batshit insane to such a degree that I’m not sure if I should begin by talking about how Mel Gibson literally plays Santa Claus as a curmudgeon disappointed in recent spikes in bad behaving children or the child that has hired an assassin played by Walton Goggins to finish off what’s left of the Christmas spirit after receiving a lump of coal. Fatman is the kind of movie that should not take itself seriously for a single second, but at some points it does, whether it’s coming from wanting viewers to connect with the dire predicament of Santa’s workshop failing as a business and being in need of an overhaul or the prolonged investigative search for Santa Claus’ real location.
Such changes come in the form of an arrangement with the US military away from the holiday season with intentions of vegan elves crafting weapons, which is most definitely a thing I never thought I would type in my life. Mrs. Claus also happens to be a Black woman, and while I will give Mel Gibson the benefit of the doubt and say that he has repented and worked towards eradicating the racism within his soul, it doesn’t take away the feeling that the filmmakers are just trolling him. However, the more we see of the gentle and warm spirit radiating from Marianne Jean-Baptiste in the role, it’s also clear that she got the part based on talent. It’s just that there’s an element of self-awareness by pairing Mel Gibson with a Black wife that’s nearly impossible to not laugh off no matter how strictly you believe art should be separated from the artist.
To the credit of Mel Gibson himself, he’s fine enough as a grizzled curmudgeon variation on Chris Cringle in this world (which a radio show actually confirms as Trump’s America, which feels on-brand for 2020) where Santa Claus is real and essentially demystified. He’s not jolly or heavy here, but rather opens the movie taking up target practice outside his snowy remote home. The reindeer do exist and apparently can fly (I’m guessing the filmmakers didn’t have enough of a budget to show us that madness) leaving us with a story about how both the sleigh and Santa got shot by rebellious teenagers during the night. it’s one of the more inspired pieces of ludicrous dialogue, and something that Fatman could have used more of. The script never quite figures out how to find the entertainment from this absurdity.
The other characters fare worse, and the filmmakers sometimes related don’t even know what to do with young Billy (Chance Hurstfield, the child that kicks the plot into motion), a spoiled and privileged brat living in a mansion with his disabled and neglectful grandma. There are also some abandonment issues from whoever his real father is that goes nowhere. Oddly, there is already enough there for Santa Claus to give this child coal, but that doesn’t stop the film from going on an early tangent where, in an overly mean-spirited sequence, he contracts Walton Goggins’ assassin (he is apparently a family friend) to kidnap a girl classmate that bests him in the annual science fair that he’s not used to losing. The icky part comes from threats of physical torture towards a girl that can’t be any older than 12. It’s an extreme scenario to justify what’s to come, and more unpleasant when Billy is an otherwise forgettable character when he’s not barking orders to his personal staff like an elitist snob having them referred to him as Sir.
The biggest disappointment is that while Walton Goggins is reliably channeling some deranged energy, there’s not much to the hitman other than disdain for Christmas, edgy cussing/insults, and a revelation that is admirably silly but too cliché in a movie that should be letting loose with the goofiest ideas imaginable. With that said, his weaponry is certainly gnarly, and the violence between him and Santa delivers, and the staging of the final fight is an intense enough reminder that these filmmakers are skilled when it comes to gritty action.
There’s a lot of gripes here, but they fortunately never stop Fatman from being anything less than a curious tale. What precedes needs more flair and excitement, but the hook is so ridiculous that it’s enough to recommend the movie to anyone that is even remotely contemplating checking it out. It’s also reasonable to suggest that there would be better results containing this nuttiness to a short film given the amount of filler. Still, the concept of Fatman carries the movie like a sleigh full of gifts; some are good and some are coal.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at [email protected]