Fatman has a really strong premise right out the gate. Santa Claus a.k.a. Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) is a haggard old man whose yearly business of delivering presents around the world is getting harder. There are too many kids landing on the “naughty list” and Santa’s elves don’t have as much work to do. And then, one young kid gets coal in his stocking and decides to get even with Father Christmas by hiring a hitman to murder him.
It’s all very ridiculous and Fatman knows that it can’t escape the inherently silly facets of itself. The movie disperses comedic self-recognition every once in a while to let you know it’s in on the joke. Because Fatman does want to be funny but it is more interested in telling the age-old story of an older person bemoaning the state of the world today. And this is a sub-genre that lead actor Mel Gibson has been finding to be his niche in these later years of his career. It’s hard not to think of his cop character from Dragged Across Concrete. And that’s both a positive and a negative.
As good as Mel Gibson is in Fatman, it is tough to enjoy his caustic performance considering that he seems like a genuinely caustic person. But, credit where credit is due: Gibson delivers a Logan-like riff on Santa Claus that’s nailing the vibe of the movie. It is just tough to separate actor from role in this particular scenario. When another character tries to cheer Chris up by telling him he’s “an icon,” you can’t help but see how it would echo with Gibson’s current celebrity status.
However, there are some really great supporting players in Fatman that threaten to steal the show. Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s take on Mrs. Claus isn’t written to be much more than a support pillar for her husband, but the actress infuses the role with the kind of warmth it necessitates. Chance Hurstfield channels Patrick Bateman in his portrayal of spoiled rich brat Billy Wenan. For such a young actor, he portrays genuine menace during one very darkly humorous sequence.
And then there is Walton Goggins as Skinny Man, the assassin sent to kill Chris Cringle. Goggins gets to play the exact type of character that he excels at: endlessly quirky, full of coiled energy, and funny to a fault. So much of Fatman consists of scenes following Skinny Man through his work day, and though they add nothing to the plot, it is always a pleasure to spend that time with Goggins being so entertaining.
But, Fatman does have a few key issues. For anyone expecting an action extravaganza, don’t get your hopes up. The movie is a slow build to the last twenty minutes where the action finally kicks off. And when it does, it’s competently staged and well-shot, but there isn’t anything that sticks out as exemplary. It works but having little to no action interspersed throughout the running time makes it feel underwhelming.
And though the premise of Fatman is easily sold in its opening third, the movie continues to hammer home its gruff reality-based take on Santa Claus as if to reaffirm itself to the audience. You almost expect something truly whimsical and cartoonish is going to happen by the film’s end because the movie seems like its overbearing take is setting you up for subversion. No, it just plays itself out how you’d expect. For such a strong idea, the movie doesn’t feel confident enough to let the idea lead to more surprising places by the film’s end.
Still, Fatman works just fine for what it is trying to accomplish. The cast does a good job, the movie is adequately constructed, and it’s a simple enough lark of an idea that it never overstays its welcome. It’s a shame that the movie didn’t go to places that might have been legitimately boundary-crossing, but it settles in nicely for a low-budget flick of its nature. It’s tough to see this being anyone’s favorite Christmas movie, but it would not surprise us to see it popping up on “alternative Christmas movies” lists in the next few years. Will it manage to gather some sort of cult following? It could but for now, Fatman is like getting a decent pair of socks under the tree. You’re thankful for them, but they aren’t gonna be the gifts you remember.