I had run across the trailer for Fatman back in September and said to myself, “Self. You just watched the most bat crap crazy trailer Funny Or Die couldn’t have conceived on a good day. But, hold the phone, this movie has Mel “Hollywood Poison” Gibson as Santa Claus? What, the what?” So, needless to say, this film was a bit of a curio right off the bat. In some ways, I wish it would have stayed that way.
So here’s the deal, Mel Gibson aka Chris has become disillusioned by the terrible behavior of kids in our modern world leaving him to question if he should continue his chosen vocation. Encouraged by his doting wife played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who seems to be the only non-repugnant character, Chris struggles through another Christmas. Cut to Chance Hurstfield as Billy, a spoiled rich kid, who has been bilking his ailing Grandmother out of her fortune while hoping to win another blue ribbon at the annual science fair at school.
Failing to beat out his female classmate, the saccharinely sweet Christine, Billy decides to exact revenge by hiring a Santa-obsessed hitman named Skinny Man played by Walton Goggins to put the fear of God into the little girl. What follows is one of the most ignorantly, rough scenes of violence on a child actor in years. Threatening to kill her family while torturing Christine with electricity, Billy convinces her to give up the blue ribbon, thus forcing Santa to give him coal on Christmas morning. Enter Goggins again, to hunt down and kill St. Nick at Billy’s behest.
You with me so far? It gets worse.
Now facing financial ruin, Chris allows the U.S. Government to use his elves to build parts for a weapons system in order to afford his mounting bills. The rest is a cat and mouse caper which makes Bad Santa seem like Rankin and Bass.
Ho, Ho, Holy Crap
I’m no stranger to violent holiday films given my time building sets for The Hebrew Hammer, a movie where Santa Claus is murdered by his own reindeer by orders of his evil son played by Andy Dick. But at least, that nasty piece of business played under the guise of a comedic romp. Fatman plays as a hateful, depressing, mean-spirited revenge flick with no redeeming characters to speak of. I’m talking to you Santa. Mel Gibson, besides the beard, never really looks or feels like anyone who ever brought joy to anyone, let alone children. So, the idea of making him the titular protagonist feels so disjointed and wrong. Then again, who else could play a gun-wielding Santa who frequents a townie bar?
Goggins plays his usual, intimidatingly cold demeanor and honestly is the only character with any kind of an interesting arc. Throughout the film, when he is not menacing someone, Skinny Man buys up toys made by Santa’s elves in order to fill a void in his life. It seems he too was slighted on Christmas and grew up to despise Father Christmas. Throughout, you are given a deeper look into how broken Skinny Man is while showing a strange vulnerability in the form of a hamster which he treats with the loving care he never pays to people. An interesting trait completely negated by the end of the film.
So That Explains It
Written and directed by Eshom and Ian Nelms, Fatman seems like a passion project given their IMDb profile which discusses their love for waging battles with their two hundred G.I. Joe figures and dreaming of John Ford-style landscapes when they were kids.
Toys and violence. Checks out.
What better duo to create such a wrong-headed film during a time in American history where hate and dispair are part and parcel every day. Ten years ago, maybe this kind of wannabe edge lord storyline would have been seen as badass and exciting. But there is nary a moment in the year 2020 where this kind of despondent, over the top nihilism involving a character of hope becoming a brooding, shit-kicking Tarantino archetype fits our collective psyche. Nor should it.
Elves. Reindeer. What Else Can We Ruin?
Around the second act, we are introduced to Santa’s crew consisting of ornery reindeer and sugar-fueled, workaholic elves. Skipping over the reindeer, because nothing about them is really ever seen or explained, let us talk about Santa’s helpers. According to the film, they eat nothing but sugar and need only minutes of sleep a day, thus making them the most efficient workforce on the planet. That’s about all we really get. I’m sure there is more I may be missing, but at this point, I truly could have cared less. Played by actors with the actual condition of dwarfism, much like so many Christmas films before this, I’m still on the fence on whether going this route or scaling down average-sized people is more offensive these days. Not having a leg to stand on in this debate, I’ll leave the Brothers Nelms choice in casting up to those more in the know. But more than likely, it’s probably insensitive, given the rest of Fatman’s concepts of what a good film is.
Oh, in case you didn’t know, Chris has been alive for so long because of his need to bring joy to children on Christmas. So, that explains away how he can survive when someone shoots him through his sleigh with a shotgun on Christmas Eve and why Santa is learning to use firearms to defend himself.
This freaking movie.
Fatman is an exhausting, vile, depressingly boring movie which might have been kinda funny as a skit or short. It offers nothing but vitriolic malice through its one hour and forty-minute runtime. The script is all over the place, plugging in the Nelms‘ ill-conceived character tropes of classic characters through a lens of angsty boyhood fantasy leading up to a less than satisfying climax. There is nothing fun or witty here, only further fueling any holiday blues people might suffer from, especially this year. It’s void of color, class, or gravitas, leaving the audience with a bad taste in their mouth akin to stale cookies and sour milk.
You Better Watch Out, I’m Telling You Why…
Maybe using a gruff anti-Semitic racist, in the form of Mel Gibson to play this iteration of Santa was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but if I were to guess, not too many folks want to work with him these days. There are moments where you see a glimmer of hope and redemption for the character only to be shoved back up the dirtiest of chimneys by just how deplorable nearly everyone is written. Mind you, even here, Goggins is not pulling any punches and definitely earns a paycheck as the heavy, though when everyone around him is just as deplorable, you are left with nobody to root for.
Is there a holiday film that takes a dark turn and gets it right? The Film Inquiry Community would love to hear about it. Comment below!
Fatman is currently available on VOD.
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