Fatman is, if nothing else, an exercise in completing a task. The film, opening in select theaters November 13th in advance of a November 24th VOD release, stars Mel Gibson as a salt-of-the-Earth and salt-of-the-beard small business-owner Santa Claus. His workshop, which used to produce fine American-made crafts, has fallen on hard times, thanks to outsourcing and naughty kids. Other players in the story include a bratty rich kid named Billy, basically the middle school version of Boss Baby, who wants to kill Santa, and the hitman (played by Walton Goggins) Billy hires to do it.
Mel Gibson as a grizzled Santa Claus and Walton Goggins as a weirdo hitman is a decent enough premise, but not since Seth Grahame-Smith’s series of books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, etc) has a storyteller seemed so content to fulfill the bare minimum requirements of their own pitch. Eshom and Ian Nelms, who write and direct, offer a comedic or at least cute premise, and then shoot the whole thing with only the broadest strokes filled in, as if they were trying to rush from pitch to product as quickly as possible. It’s a conceptual joke in search of actual jokes. Like a C- term paper delivered on time, the most impressive thing about Fatman is that it’s finished.
Mel Gibson’s Chris Cringle runs Santa’s workshop out of North Peak, though his location is protected by the government, who also subsidize his business as a way to stimulate Christmas business more broadly. Trouble is, Cringle’s subsidy check is short this year, on account of his subsidy is based on volume, and the increasingly misanthropic Santa has begun giving out more coal than presents lately.
The idea that Santa’s workshop had been hard hit by outsourcing is sort of fun — though using an overworked, underpaid minority labor force cuts into the message somewhat — but then the whole thing gets bogged down in subsidies, government contracts, and naughty kids. A bigger issue is how much time Fatman spends trying to explain the economics of Santa’s workshop compared to the rest of the movie, which is rushed, rote, and riddled with holes. It feels a bit like when I rewrite my first paragraph 30 times and then have to hurry through the rest of an article in 20 minutes to hit a deadline.
Meanwhile, Billy (played by Chance Hurstfield) loses the science fair for the first time in four years, tortures the girl who beat him with a car battery until she signs an affidavit saying she cheated, and hires Walton Goggins to go kill Santa. This after Billy finds coal inside his present (that’s right, a present, even though a stocking would’ve been more traditional). I’d like to explain the Goggins character’s… whole deal, but the movie never gets to that. He’s just a hitman, get it? He’s going to kill Santa. That’ll be funny, right?
Fatman half-assedly goes through the motions of connecting these half-assed story strands, leading to an inevitable shoot-em-up finale, which seems neither fun for them nor us. It’s the kind of movie that makes you wonder who it’s actually for. It’s a Christmas movie that’s rated R for a few F words, but lacks both the gleeful vulgarity of Bad Santa and the gleeful gore of Død Snø. Mostly it lacks glee in general.
There’s so little fun to be had in Fatman that it has the feeling of a make-work project, something that was meant to keep the Nelms brothers busy for a while. Maybe that’s unfair, I don’t really know. I’m only speculating, on account of Fatman feels sort of like the filmmaking equivalent of begging your dad to sign you up for flag football and then having to stick it out for the next eight weeks after realizing you hate it.