PLOT: A bratty kid hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa Claus (Mel Gibson).
REVIEW: FATMAN is one of those movies that’s nearly impossible to define. When I heard that Mel Gibson was making an R-rated Santa Claus movie, I cringed. It sounded like a BAD SANTA clone, but the movie I imagined and the one I got are radically different – thank God. The thing is FATMAN isn’t a comedy. It’s an action movie, and probably Gibson’s most all-around satisfying one in awhile.
His Chris Cringle isn’t immediately revealed to be the Santa Claus we know and love. We first see him unloading ammo on soup cans in his backyard, while Mrs. Cringle (the lovely Marianne Baptiste) bakes him cookies to feed his seemingly insatiable sugar addiction. He pops into town to down a few pints and scares off a bartender’s married would-be-lover. So it’s clear he’s a kind of Santa, but at first, it seems it seems like he’s a “grounded” kind. Surely there would be no reindeer, elves, or magic in this one I thought to myself. Wrong.
The Nelms Bros (Eshom & Ian) take their time revealing just how closely they hew to the legend by doing a slow reveal, and their sense of verisimilitude is exceptional. In the world they’re creating, everyone knows Santa is real (he gets a yearly stipend from the American government to spread joy), and his toys aren’t limited to wooden workshop figures. This Santa makes iPhones and laptops.
However, if you’re bad all you get is a lump of coal, making Santa as hated as he is loved. Enter Walton Goggins as a professional assassin who’s never quite gotten over getting a lump of coal one year, and, as a sideline, gets off on buying once-beloved Santa toys from folks who’ve fallen on hard times. He gets the job of a lifetime when a bratty kid, furious at getting the shaft, hires him to kill “the Fatman”, a job he takes dead serious.
The film is essentially a two-hander, with Gibson, as Chris, struggling to keep his workshop and operation afloat in our era of cutbacks, necessitating him taking on some work for the army. Meanwhile, Goggins gets closer and closer to his prey, with a third-act bloodbath definitely in the card, although despite the R-rating I was shocked to see how violent and balls to the wall it became. Remember that movie-within-a-movie in SCROOGED, “The Night the Reindeer Died?” Imagine a more grounded version – that’s what you get here.
Gibson, of course, is great – mostly because he plays it so sincerely. He never goes for a laugh, instead of playing his jaded Santa as a man with the weight of the world on his back. Goggins, similarly, plays it more-or-less straight as the hardcore assassin (uttering the film’s best line “Santa mother-f*cker!”). Their mano-a-mano scrap stands as one of Gibson’s best-ever 1:1 fights in a movie (I’m serious). The two are supported beautifully by Baptiste, as the ever-loyal, loving Mrs. Cringle, with her and Gibson having legit chemistry. They do feel like a nice old married couple.
All that said, it should be noted that FATMAN isn’t for everyone, as shown by the mixed (at best) reviews it’s getting from critics. Still, there’s a minority of us out there that are going to love it, and happily, I’m one of them. This has cult hit written all over it, and it’s a must-see for Gibson fans.