'Fatman' almost becomes an anti-Christmas parody that revels in its Coenish plot intersections, but most surprising of all, it's absurd yet fun in the right moments.
- 🍪 Everyone around Mel Gibson.
- 🍪 Especially Walton Goggins.
- 🍪 Satire that's stern, but still engaging.
- 🍪 Plays too serious at times.
- 🍪 Makes for hard juxtapositions against the sillier material.
In Fatman, the war on Christmas chooses new ammunition. Eshom and Ian Nelms trade festive cheer for military-industrial complexes, a hardened Santa Claus with deadshot hobbies, and assassins hellbent on eliminating the King of Christmas. All the fables and holiday carols that inspire jubilation in giddy, present-hungry children are brought to life through a deadly-serious, calloused interpretation. It’s a B-movie concept with hard-boiled intentions, envisioned as some Fargo holiday special that puts a premium on holly-jolly hunting seasons.
Oddly enough, I wish the tone wasn’t so dourly committed? Because there’s a lot to enjoy about Walton Goggins’ seasonal psychosis as he surveils - regrettably - a bushy-bearded Mel Gibson, whose inclusion makes my overall situational enjoyment all the more conflicting.
In the Nelms’ warped December chaos, Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) is an outdoor survivalist-type who gets paid for his Christmas deliveries based on how many products are unwrapped by good little boys and girls. The problem? Children are behaving worse by the day, which means more coal in boxes, and fewer toys mass-produced by elves. Chris is forced to accept a government contract for a two-month factory takeover, where the elves will now produce military equipment (specifically for airborne vehicles). Chris soaks his feelings in liquor, currently working for “The Man,” and then everything gets worse. Spoiled Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) curses “Fatman” for giving him coal this year, so he hires his go-to hitman (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa.
If you’re turned sour by a Christmas standoff that emphasizes violent shootouts and subsidized profits, Fatman won’t impress. Eshom and Ian skirt around the more magical elements of Santa’s duties like Christmas Eve’s skybound sleigh ride or squeezing through chimneys. Chris is often seen sipping whiskey out of a flask, or arguing with overseeing officers who ramble production numbers, or practicing his aim like a retired Rambo might stay frosty. No extravagant costume. All bullet holes and sorrow.
Santa is turned into a country-bristled everyman that benefits Gibson’s gruff, leathery exterior. Lines are grunted more than pronounced, while Gibson’s patron saint of generosity laments today’s youth and their behavioral downtrend (a whole lot less of keeping adolescents in-line).
Gibson’s supporting players are the spiced bread and cinnamon butter of Fatman. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Ruth, Chris’ adoring wife, who bakes sheets upon heaps of gingerbread men or other cookie favorites while comforting the struggling businessman. Then there’s Goggins, whose tactical nutjob harbors a personal vendetta against Santa for all the times his gift-wishes were ignored. Jean-Baptiste is a calming voice in Chris’ ear, sewing homestead chemistry with Gibson, while Goggins goes off his rocker as a once bad kid who now collects presents crafted by Santa’s workforce in hopes of one-day tracking, then murdering the judgemental bastard. Cue scenes where Goggins frustratingly stares at Christmas cartoons and walls covered by “Santa Watch” printouts or random arctic maps or different national interpretations of Santa like some wintery Law & Order spinoff. Only out-crazed by Chance Hurstfield, the egomaniac little man who wins science fairs by threatening classmates with Goggins’ intimidator and car batteries (mommy’s gone, daddy’s jets around the globe). Absolute lunacy.
Then again, the word “lunacy” may not be wholly apt since, as I already teased, Fatman doesn’t serve outrageous exploitation. One of the most challenging aspects of being a critic is commenting on the film we’re presented with versus the film we might desire more based on preconceptions, and Fatman is a great example. Would I have loved a further devoted action-laugher with multiple square-offs for Goggins and Gibson? No doubt. Is the strangely pro-capitalism, pro-government takeover flick less exciting than expected? Some will complain. Does it work in ways I wasn’t prepared for, from the model relationship between Chris and Ruth to Goggins’ forever-unhinged harbinger of Christmas evil? Indeed.
Some viewers won’t touch Fatman with a ten-foot pole because of the unwarranted forgiveness the industry continually grants Mel Gibson for his anti-Semitic behavior, and those choices are respected. Gibson’s demeanor and badass-grandfather physicality are prime for the role, which means plenty of screentime. There’s lies a broader discussion that’s not meant for a film review, so my focus remains on Eshom and Ian Nelms’ project. Never the Crank or Shoot ‘Em Up clone with jingle bells attached, and yet, with a vibe more akin to In Order Of Disappearance, there’s still an intriguing corporate satire about our warped holiday obsessions that skewers consumerism and gives us the bonkers-tactical Walton Goggins audiences deserve. Man against myth, with an ending that speckles another white Christmas with bloody-red spatter.
Fatman will be available for digital download on November 17th.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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