Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 17, 2021)
Over the years, fans often debated whether or not 1988’s Die Hard qualified as a Christmas movie. Semi-lost in that perennial discussion, some get into arguments about whether or not 1987’s Lethal Weapon should also earn such a designation.
With 2020’s Fatman, another Mel Gibson action flick broaches this domain, though I expect it’ll earn less discussion because so many fewer people will ever see it. Also, it integrates the holiday so heavily that I think it firmly lands in the “Christmas movie” category.
Set in North Peak, Alaska, Chris Cringle (Gibson) makes presents for good kids. However, because so many children turn rotten, he experiences a decline in his business.
Spoiled rich young overachiever Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) receives a lump of coal from Chris due to the hissy fit he throws when he doesn’t win first prize at a science fair. Bitter and angry, Billy hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to assassinate Chris.
Happy holidays to you, too! Well, no one ever said all Christmas movies need to be jolly and light, so we find a clear niche in which a black action comedy like Fatman can prosper.
And make no mistake: Fatman follows a pretty grim path. Even if we ignore the possible assassination of Santa, we find plenty of dark “R”-rated material here.
I do like the novel approach to Santa. This becomes one of the flick’s more clever elements, as it takes Saint Nick out of the usual fantasy element and plops him in the real world, with interesting results.
Gibson sure seems like an unusual choice for the part, but he does pretty well. He doesn’t attempt any of the standard holly jolly Santa stuff and makes Chris a pretty bitter character.
That feels like an intriguing spin, and Fatman digs into matters in a satisfactory manner. I do like the twists on the standard Santa setup and their exploration.
Beyond the unusual nature of the way it tells the Christmas narrative, though, Fatman can struggle a bit to find its way. Frankly, Fatman tends to feel more like an idea for a film than a fully rendered end produce, partly because its inherent cynicism can interfere.
When Fatman delves into its alternate view of Santa, it seems intriguing and inventive. However, these elements recede as the movie proceeds, and eventually it feels too ugly for its own good.
Not that a dark view of Santa can’t work, but this one just feels like it exploits violence for little more than shock value. Once we get the notion of a hitman after Saint Nick, the movie doesn’t find much to say.
It also doesn’t help that Fatman combines two narrative points in an awkward manner, In addition to the tale about the attempt to kill Santa, we also get a plot related to Chris’s financial struggles and his partnership with the US military.
These dueling stories mean that Fatman tends to feel like two separate movies linked together in a tenuous manner. Frankly, the two tales don’t connect in a meaningful manner, so the film meanders without as much focus as it needs.
If Fatman fully embraced one or the other, that might’ve worked, but instead we just get a scattered narrative. The two sides fail to connect as well as they should.
Though I’m not sure either one of these plots could fill a whole feature, as even with both involved, Fatman struggles to fill its 100 minutes in a satisfying manner. As alluded, the quirky, inventive nature of the movie keeps us engaged through its first act, but the longer the flick runs, the less interesting it becomes.
This leads us on a disappointing little journey. Fatman occasionally exploits its unusual approach to Santa Claus in a way that makes it entertaining, but the end result simply lacks the substance it needs to sustain us the whole way.