Merry belated Christmas to all who celebrate and happy holidays to those who do not. When I think of the holiday season, I always think of laying on my parents’ couch, with a hot drink in hand, watching Christmas movies that range from classics like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), modern classics such as Elf (2003), to the unconventional such as Krampus (2015). Every year I look for the new Christmas movie of the year, and when I saw the trailer for Fatman, I knew that this was the one I needed to see. Fatman is the Christmas movie we didn’t know we needed: a Mel Gibson Santa starring in his own cheesy 80’s action movie.
Fatman is about a down-and-out Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Children of today are overwhelmingly spoiled menaces in society, and because of this decline of Nice-listed children, Chris Kringle (played by Mel Gibson) cannot fulfill his quota in order to receive his government stipend and continue the payment and benefits for his elvish workers. In order to keep the workshop open, Chris and his wife Ruth (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) accept a military contract to supplement his lack of toy making. What he doesn’t know is that a very evil-rich boy named Billy (played by Chance Hurstfield) is angry about his receivement of coal in his stocking and hires a Santa-obsessed hitman (played by Walton Goggins) to take out the “Fatman”.
This premise is the type of ridiculous I love in these types of films—just writing that synopsis had me giggling. While bonkers ideas are fun to watch unfold, the true test is to see how the filmmakers intend to pull it off, and I believe they took the best route possible: have all the actors act like this is the most serious movie ever made. The story is about as deep and good as the synopsis leads you to think it will be (shallow and not-so-great), but seeing a disgruntled Santa Claus, in serious deadpan, talk about a man and his sons “putting two in the sleigh, and one in me,” right before going out to shoot target practice is the type of 80’s-cheese I love to see in films that are made just to give us a good time.
Mel Gibson is a troubled man with some serious issues, and he brings all of that, brilliantly, to his performance as Santa. Jean-Baptiste also plays a great Mrs. Claus bringing that Christmas warmth we expect in holiday films while simultaneously fitting right in with the serious atmosphere she’s placed in. The two performances I’m still unsure about is Goggins and Hurstfield, not because they were bad, but rather, the characters’ motivations seem so silly that when they’re paired with the performances, it is incredibly jarring (this coming from a person that really appreciated the tone).
Along with the motivations of the antagonists, some of their actions did not make a lot of sense. In fact, several of these weird moments involving Goggins and Hurstfield cause some pacing problems that make the film feel much longer than it is. Due to this, the film never really finds itself until the final act, but once it does hit that final act, it is pure cheap action-film goodness. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it is a nice little film. In my opinion, Lethal Weapon (1987) remains as Mel Gibson’s best kinda-Christmas movie. However, the Nelms’ (that writers and directors of the film) and Gibson’s take on a battle-hardened Santa remains a fun, fast-paced sleigh-ride that will leave you oddly hoping for an action-packed sequel and tickle that action itch in your Christmas film rewatches in years to come.
Fatman is rated R for bloody violence, and language