Mel Gibson plays gun-toting corporate Santa in tone-deaf comedy 'Fatman'

  • Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) incurs the wrath of a nasty rich kid in "Fatman."

    Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) incurs the wrath of a nasty rich kid in "Fatman." Courtesy of Saban Films

  • A professional killer (Walton Goggins) is hired to go after Santa in "Fatman."

    A professional killer (Walton Goggins) is hired to go after Santa in "Fatman." Courtesy of Saban Films

 
 
Posted11/12/2020 6:00 AM

"Fatman" - ★

Heavy on the realism.

 

Light on the magical.

Virtually nonexistent on the fun.

My guess would be that writers/directors Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms wanted to create an instant cult classic with this bleak and bloody, morally ambiguous, dark Christmas comedy.

But "Fatman" never devolves into something so incompetently bad that it becomes inadvertently humorous. Even so, its dramatically deadpan approach seems to be totally disinterested in making us laugh or barely crack a grin.

Somewhere at the core of this tone-deaf holiday feature could be a tepid warning about the long-range dangers facing victims of troubled, loveless childhoods.

"Fatman" begins with an empathy-challenged rich kid named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a dictatorial brat who commands the staff at his family's mansion.

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His neglectful single dad can't be bothered with fatherly duties as he travels the world with his girlfriends. So, Billy feels entitled to boost his sunken self-esteem with whatever it takes, including kidnapping and threatening to electrically torture a middle school classmate if she won't falsely confess to cheating at the Science Fair, thus allowing him to take First Prize.

But oh, ho, ho, no.

He can't fool Santa Claus, who gives Billy a lump of coal for his just Christmas Day desserts.

"Nooooooooooo!" Billy cries. He instantly calls his right-hand thug and professional assassin, known only as "Skinny Man" (a suitably cold and troubled Walton Goggins). His job: locate and kill Santa Claus. Then, bring Santa's head to Billy.

By this time in the story, we have already met Santa, alias Chris Cringle, and we know he won't be a pushover.

He's played by Mel Gibson, the "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon" tough guy. His Chris Cringle uses a handgun to shoot beer cans as a way to relieve stress. And he has a lot to be stressed about.

The naughty kids now greatly outnumber the nice.

The workshop has fallen on hard times, and last year's toy output barely amounted to half of what the U.S. government expected.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yep, Uncle Sam has been subsidizing the workshop to keep the holiday economy afloat. Because Chris' elves haven't been keeping up with the ones at Keebler, the U.S. military commandeers the staff to construct computer modules for fighter jets.

All this has put poor Chris into a massive funk, leaving his wife Ruth (an endearing Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to help the old man through one more bleary Christmas deadline. Wisely, the absurdist "Fatman" doesn't try to explain much, because the entire movie would be taken up with reams of exposition like David Lynch's "Dune."

A climactic conflict between Chris and Skinny Man comes off as patently ridiculous, even though we have been tipped off to St. Nick's Wolverine-like powers of recovery when he comes home Christmas night with a shotgun wound, compliments of two kids who apparently mistook his flying sleigh for what? A mallard? UFO?

The Nelms boys (they gave us 2017's "Small Town Crime") pile on the absurdities, but don't provide us with a perspective on the film's moral implications or political policies.

Is this a criticism of government subsidies for corporate America?

A commentary on the devaluation of human life?

A lamentation for the loss of the "peace on earth and good will toward men" spirit of Christmas? "All I have is loathing for a world that has forgotten," Chris says.

OK. One out of three isn't terrible.

• • •

Starring: Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Chance Hurstfield

Directed by: Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms

Other: A Saban Films release. In theaters. On demand Nov. 24. Rated R for language and violence. 100 minutes

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