Wanting to have the bite of Bad Santa but, oddly, the sentimentality of Elf, Fatman is a sourly violent yet at times bizarrely sweet action(?) film that suffers from trying to adopt too many personalities.
The idea of Mel Gibson as an unorthodox Chris Cringle is a casting decision that could’ve worked in a film that decided to completely commit to the irony of such an actor playing a variation of Santa. Instead, whilst incredibly gruff and mostly unpleasant, writer/director duo Eshom and Ian Nelms hope to inject a little levity into proceedings (admittedly not until closer to the violent climax), justifying why Cringle is a bit of a grinch.
It’s the kids, you see. They’re terrible. And it’s because of their bratty attitudes that Chris has been delivering literal coal at an alarming rate. One child, the particularly unlikeable Billy (Chance Hurstfield), hasn’t taken too kindly to this gift – we’re not surprised as he’s a genuinely awful little human – and seeks out a hitman (because, obviously) to take good ol’ St. Nick down. Enter Walton Goggins as the Santa-hating hitman Skinny Man.
Though the premise is completely bizarre – I haven’t even mentioned how the U.S. government have a partnership with Chris and utilise his dominion of elves – you could imagine Fatman somehow working if a singular, more certain tone was embraced. There’s satirical potential that’s never fully realised. There’s a morality tale that never feels earned. And there’s a violent action film that never embraces the lunacy enough to be successful.
Goggins is disappointingly on autopilot, and young Hurstfield is stuck with a character we have zero sympathy for, leaving Fatman to survive (just) off the talents of Gibson. Who’da thunk it that the industry pariah would be able to inject a real sense of pain and disappointment to a character that is crumbling due to the loss of society’s way. The actor’s personal demons and controversies aren’t enough to give the film a pass, but he is far from phoning it in, and he’s committed to Fatman more than it deserves; similarly, the wonderful Marianne Jean-Baptiste excels with her thinly written role as his devoted wife, managing to suggest there’s a genuine connection between the two.
Far from a rewarding film it any capacity – even the bleak Bad Santa earned its emotional stripes – Fatman is just a mean-spirited and surprisingly tedious experience that doesn’t possess the wit, intelligence, or globes to execute its genre-bending intentions. This is one holiday present not even worth re-gifting.
Fatman is screening in select Australian cinemas from November 19th 2020.