Fatman is, if nothing else, an exercise in completing a task. The film, opening in select theaters November 13th in advance of a November 24th VOD release, stars Mel Gibson as a sort of salty, small business-owning Santa Claus, whose workshop has fallen on hard times. The other players in the story are a bratty rich kid named Billy, basically the middle school version of Boss Baby, who wants to kill Santa, and the hitman (played by Walton Goggins) Billy hires to do it.
Mel Gibson as a grizzled Santa Claus and Walton Goggins as a weirdo hitman is a decent enough hook, but not since Seth Grahame-Smith’s series of books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, etc) has a storyteller seemed so content to fulfill the bare minimum requirements of their own pitch. Eshom and Ian Nelms, who write and direct, offer a comedic or at least cute premise, and then shoot the whole thing with only the broadest strokes filled in, as if they were trying to rush from pitch to product as quickly as possible. It’s a conceptual joke in search of actual jokes. Like a C- term paper delivered on time, the most impressive thing about Fatman is that it’s finished.
Mel Gibson’s Chris Cringle runs Santa’s workshop out of North Peak, though his location is protected by the government, who also subsidize his business as a way to stimulate Christmas business more broadly. Trouble is, Cringle’s subsidy check is short this year, on account of his subsidy is based on volume, and the increasingly misanthropic Santa has begun giving out more coal than presents lately. This is, again, sort of cute I suppose, but it’s strange how much time Fatman spends explaining the economics of Santa’s workshop compared to how much time it spends fleshing out the characters or story. It feels a bit like when I rewrite my first paragraph 30 times and then rush through the rest of an article in 20 minutes to hit a deadline.
Meanwhile, Billy (played by Chance Hurstfield) loses the science fair for the first time in four years, tortures the girl who beat him with a car battery until she signs an affidavit saying she cheated, and hires Walton Goggins to go kill Santa. This after Billy finds coal inside his present (a stocking would’ve been more traditional, but no, it comes in a wrapped box). I’d like to explain the Goggins character’s… whole deal, but the movie never gets to that. The rest of the film half-assedly goes through the motions of connecting these story strands, leading to an inevitable shoot-em-up finale, which seems neither fun for them nor us. It’s the kind of movie that makes you wonder who it’s actually for. It’s a Christmas movie that’s rated R for a few F words, but lacks both the gleeful vulgarity of Bad Santa and the gleeful gore of Død Snø. Mostly it lacks glee in general.
There’s so little fun to be had in Fatman that it has the feeling of a make-work project, something that was meant to keep the Nelms brothers busy for a while. Maybe that’s unfair, I don’t really know. I’m only speculating, on account of Fatman feels sort of like the filmmaking equivalent of begging your dad to sign you up for flag football and then having to stick it out for the next eight weeks after realizing you hate it.
‘Fatman’ hits select theaters November 13th, and VOD platforms November 24th. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.