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Review: ‘Fatman’: Here comes Santa Claus … and he’s got a gun

Mel Gibson as Chris Cringle, a Santa who's not so jolly, in "Fatman."
Mel Gibson as Chris Cringle, a Santa who’s not so jolly, in “Fatman.”
(Saban Films)

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Whoever cut the trailer for “Fatman” deserves a little something extra in their stocking this Christmas. Mel Gibson playing a despairing, bad Santa railing against the ballooning number of naughty kids while fending off a hitman hired to kill him offered some promise of perverse pleasure that, alas, the movie itself doesn’t deliver. “Fatman” isn’t a lump of coal. More like a fruitcake your neighbor dropped off in early December that’s left on the counter through the new year, its red and green cherries hardening into buckshot before being hauled out to the curb with the Christmas tree.

The main problem with “Fatman” is that it plays its premise straight, squandering the opportunity to be the kind of gonzo holiday movie that could serve as seasonal counterprogramming to treacly Hallmark Channel fare. There’s a brief moment at the end of the film where Gibson’s Chris Cringle squares off against Walton Goggins’ hamster-loving assassin and bellows, “You think I got this job because I’m fat and jolly?” The line hints at the movie “Fatman” could have been had its creators possessed a little more focus and courage.

In the “Fatman” universe, Santa lives in secluded Alaska with his understanding wife (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, an inspired bit of casting) and a factory full of efficient elves. But because the U.S. government pays his subsidy based on the volume of presents he delivers (capitalism!) and because, in Chris’ view, kids these days are going to hell in a handbasket, the workshop has fallen on hard times. Santa’s ratio of lumps of coal to presents is way off and needs adjusting.

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Writer-directors Ian and Eshom Nelms (“Small Town Crime”) don’t delve much into these ideas because that would detract from their main focus: the hit taken out on Santa by spoiled brat Billy (Chance Hurstfield) after he received a lump of that sedimentary rock for Christmas. Billy, like everything else in “Fatman,” is barely developed as a character. But we get the idea that he’s a real piece of work when, after coming in second at the school science fair, he has Goggins’ assassin kidnap the girl who won and bring her to Billy’s basement.

“You cheated. You don’t deserve to win,” Billy tells her. (Sound familiar?) He threatens to hook her up to a 12-volt battery, saying that it “might not kill you, but it’ll make your teeth chatter.”

Ho ho ho! Nothing like a little child torture to bring joy to the world! (Also: It’s a bit … odd … that the movie chooses this spot to be its most transgressive moment.)

Goggins strains to bring his hitman to life, but no amount of effort can compensate for the listless way the story unfolds. A haggard-looking Gibson gives it his all too, though there’s probably a limited audience eager to see him cast as world-weary saint determined to make Santa’s workshop great again. If this Santa really sees me when I’m sleeping, I’m leaving on every light in the house.

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‘Fatman’

Rated: R for bloody violence, and language

Running time: 1 hour: 40 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 13 in limited release where theaters are open; available Nov. 24 on VOD and digital


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