When you hear what Fatman is about, thoughts of a ridiculously good time dance in your head. The story of a spoiled little kid getting mad at Santa Claus and hiring a contract killer to take him out? Say what you will about Kevin Smith‘s Tusk (which I’m admittedly very fond of), but that executed its premise. You saw a psycho turn a man into a walrus, with all that entailed. Here, you get some of what you might expect out of this idea, but not nearly as much as you might hope for. The end result is a massive disappointment, if a technically proficient work.
Fatman wastes an opportunity to have fun and really be out there with its bizarreness. This sounds like a gonzo work, one that’s either a B-movie action epic or a crazy comedy. Instead, we get something in between, which turns out to be neither. The tone is to play it all straight, and while there’s occasional humor, this ends up almost closer to a drama. It’s an action comedy in its bones, but a dedication to playing it straight torpedoes whatever the creative forces here were going for. It’s a letdown, since the potential for something unforgettable and ridiculous was truly palpable.
Of course, Mel Gibson is a controversial element here. Some won’t even consider watching the film due to his presence. He’s solid enough here, but for anyone who is put off by his appearance, that’s fair enough. Gibson leaves a bad taste in some mouths. I can put that aside and judge the art, but I know not everyone wants to. So, just keep that in mind.
The premise here is that Santa Claus is real, known as Chris (Gibson). Working with elves and everything, he runs an old-school shop with his wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), one that’s struggling to meet the times. As his government subsidies are threatened due to low output, due to too many naughty children, they come to him offering a military contract. Reluctantly, he accepts. At the same time, Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) is living a life of unchecked privilege. When someone beats him at the Science Fair, he employs a hitman in Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) to threaten the other child. Then, given coal for Christmas by Santa, Billy hires him again, this time to kill Santa. Considering that he’s got an obsession with gifts made in Santa’s workshop, he accepts, preparing for a high-end assassination.
With Skinny Man headed for him, Chris largely remains unaware. As the former kills his way towards the workshop, the latter is trying to decide if there’s still a place in the world for him. Then, when his home is under siege, he proves that he’s no pushover, setting up a standoff in the snow.
Credit to the cast for taking this nonsense seriously. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t consider it nonsense, which is where the problem resides. Mel Gibson plays Santa as a struggling small business owner, as well as a burly mountain man, which is an interesting take. Walton Goggins tries to have some fun, playing his hitman as a bundle of quirks, but he’s so underwritten it’s just window dressing. Everyone in the cast is under utilized, but at least Gibson and Goggins do a bit to make you occasionally forget that.
Where things struggle is in the execution of this premise. Writers/directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms just can’t let their film’s freak flag fly. Instead, they settle for mediocrity, with the sporadic lively moment thrown in. There’s too much of Billy’s rottenness, multiple scenes that seem like filler, and too little of the fun like when we see the elves’ cafeteria. Leaning into that element would have made all the difference in the world.
Fatman is a disappointment, even if it was an inspired choice for a festival like Film Fest 919 to have in their lineup. It had the potential to be a total curveball, but instead, it’s a simple lob down the middle. That’s where the bummer of it all resides. Destined to be forgotten about, except perhaps as a cult option for holiday viewing, this should have been so much more. Alas.