Review: ‘Fatman’ Puts An R-Rated Spin On Santa Claus

by Ben Martin

Love or hate it, the subgenre of Christmas movies has been around as long as cinema itself, and it will stay that way as long as movies continue to be made. No doubt, everyone has their own holiday favorites, which they’ll revisit most often, if not every year. Except for a very few classics or personal favorites, I find this subgenre to be largely saccharine and trite (Much like the Christmas holiday itself in many ways, frankly). It doesn’t matter if a Christmas movie is a major theatrical release or if a Hallmark movie; these flicks will hit a lot of the same notes. Thankfully, a newly released Christmas movie intentionally bucks these traditional subgenre trends.

Fatman is a Christmas movie that’s original and pointedly aimed at an adult audience. The film is set in the real world, which has taken its toll on Santa Claus over the eons. Instead of being greeted by a jolly titular fat man, we find Chris Kringle (Mel Gibson). Chris is a hardened old grump who spends much of his time swilling booze and putting in time at the firing range. Try as he might to foster the Yuletide spirit, Chris has become disenchanted by a world filled with more naughty than nice. Worse yet, this lack of Christmas spirit is ultimately hurting his bottom line, his wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and the multitude of toy-making elves they employ. But little does Chris know that this will soon be the least of his Christmas blues. After being gifted with nothing but coal, spoiled rich kid Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) contracts a Santa-obsessed assassin (Walton Goggins) to find and kill Chris Kringle!

As you read above, Fatman has a unique premise — and what makes it even better is that the story is couched in the cinematic trimmings of holiday movies. Writer/director duo Eshom and Ian Nelms and every artist/crewmember they’ve hired have created a film that hits all the visual and design marks of what we’ve come to expect from Christmas movies. All the while, though, we’re watching a dark fantasy unfold.

Unfortunately, Fatman‘s premise can only carry the picture so far as it runs out of steam somewhere in the second act, which it manages to regain partially when the promised violence finally kicks-in. Sadly, the premise suffers from the film’s marketing, making one expect a very dark and violent fantastic comedy. So much so that I even thought Fatman would tread into exploitation film territory. 

Thus, I was disappointed once it became clear that Fatman is not as dark or violent as it would appear to be from the outset. Sure, there’s dark comedy peppered in, but it never cuts deeply enough. And yes, this is a violent movie; alas, it’s not over the top enough to be fun. Of course, this is all a matter of tone as Fatman takes itself seriously and expects the audience to do the same. While there are a couple of tangible, dramatic moments in this movie, I think making it so severe was a mistake.

Despite its tonal issues, Fatman is worth watching not only for its premise, but its leading men. Understandably, Gibson’s star has fallen over the years and he doesn’t have the mass appeal he once did. But, there’s no denying the actor has a screen presence. It is a quality which he has channeled into playing gruff badasses for the last decade or so (to the point of almost being a character actor as opposed to a star). While Gibson is undoubtedly in that tough-guy wheelhouse again, he also gives his most robust performance in years here. Then there’s Goggins, who steals every scene he’s in as the film’s antagonist. This movie isn’t perfect, but it is original. So, if you’re looking for something different to watch this holiday season, give Fatman a go!

Fatman is currently available from your preferred digital streaming retailer and will arrive on Blu-Ray & DVD on January 26.

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