‘Tis the season for Christmas movies galore and I guarantee you won’t find one quite like “Fatman”. Think about it, Mel Gibson playing a down-on-his-luck, liquor-swilling Santa who has to resort to taking military contracts in the off-season just to keep his workshop open. Obviously that’s just a sliver of the movie’s plot, but you have to admit there hasn’t been a Christmas movie in the same wacky vein as this one.
“Fatman” comes from the writing-directing duo of Eshom and Ian Nelms. The two brothers have crafted a movie that’s part dark comedy, part action flick and with an ever so slight Western vibe tossed in for good measure. It even finds time to fire a couple of shots at out-of-control consumerism and commercialism. But social commentary isn’t the main thing on its mind. “Fatman” is more of a fun and playful genre-mashup with some enjoyable performances and a goofy enough story that’s both funny and entertaining.
A well-cast Gibson has a ball playing a grizzled Chris Cringle. Times are hard for the not-so-jolly old elf who feels tossed aside by the cold and selfish world. “I’ve lost my influence,” he laments to his devoted wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). She’s an encourager by nature but also level-headed and not afraid to speak the truth when he needs to hear it. I couldn’t help but love the simple yet sweet chemistry between Gibson and Jean-Baptiste. They make for a convincing couple.
On the business side of things, kids are naughtier than ever which means fewer toy deliveries. This displeases the US Government who sees Chris as an economic asset. “We want your holiday spirit. It generates holiday spending.” With their yearly subsidy set to be well below his current budget, Chris agrees to take on a military contract to make ends meet. The sheer absurdity of it had me laughing out loud – subsidies, bottom lines, the elves in Santa’s workshop manufacturing jet fighter parts for the military. It’s funny stuff made even funnier by the film’s straight-faced approach.
But soon Santa has more to worry about than finances. After a rich and insufferable little snot named Billy (Chance Hurstfield) gets a lump of coal for Christmas, he secretly uses his family’s wealth to hire a hitman (Walter Goggins) to kill Santa Claus. Goggins hams it up playing a cold-blooded sociopath with his own bone to pick with Chris over a Christmas present he never received as a kid. Perfectly reasonable reaction, right? But hunting down the Fatman won’t be easy. It’s not like Santa’s workshop is marked on a map or can be found on a GPS.
So Chris tries to find his lost Christmas spirit while keeping his elves employed and his business afloat. Meanwhile there’s a contract on his head and an eager assassin is ready to cash in. It leads to the inevitable bullet-riddled final act that is far more satisfying than it has any right to be. The Nelms brothers show off a knack for shooting action but don’t expect a lot of it. Most is contained in the final 15 minutes or so.
About a month ago “Fatman” introduced itself with an unexpectedly diverting trailer. The finished product is equally surprising and just as fun as I had hoped. There is a stretch where not much happens; where the movie is content with simply goofing around within its wacky premise. But I admit, I even got a kick out of that. More importantly the whole thing works as waggish escapist entertainment which is exactly what the filmmakers were shooting for. “Fatman” opens November 13th in select theaters and November 24th on VOD.
VERDICT – 4 STARS