With Halloween past us, we’re coming up on that most wonderful time of the year once again, and you know what that means: Christmas movies. Cheesy romcoms, tales of wintertime magic, kids’ movies about setting up insanely complex and sadistic traps to catch two home intruders. Plenty of Christmas cheer to go around! Specifically, there’s always an abundance of movies that center around a celebrity stepping into the boots of Santa Claus for all sorts of wacky adventures. Whether kid-friendly or adult-oriented, these films are a staple of Christmas entertainment with various different interpretations of the famous jolly figure. From beautifully animated films like Klaus to live-action classics like The Santa Clause, Santa has appeared in many varied forms over the years. This time, newly released film Fatman gives us a grumpier, older Santa Claus who is dealing with his workshop being subsidized by the United States government due to the amount of good kids dwindling in numbers each year. He has to deal with this crisis while also dodging a Santa-hating hitman sent after him by a rich, spoiled child who receives coal in his stocking and decides to take matters into his own hands. Yes, this movie is as insane as it sounds.
Taking on the role of Santa Claus in this romp is Mel Gibson, providing a much more grizzled and grouchy Saint Nick (or Kris Kringle, as he goes by in his small Alaskan town) who spends his time in his local pub, lamenting that the children of the world seem to be getting worse and worse with each passing year. Mrs. Claus is played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who fulfills the expected traditional role of baking excellent cookies and helping her husband through his struggles. That struggle mainly being that Christmas has become wildly over-commercialized to the point of making Santa hate what he does. Normally, the U.S. government pays the workshop in direct proportion to how many presents are delivered, so with the state of present-delivering being what it is, Kris is forced to sign an agreement to have the elves in his workshop help build control panels for fighter jets in addition to toys for this year. But that’s only half the story, with the significantly more bonkers storyline being that a spoiled, rich young boy named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) is angry with Santa for giving him only coal for Christmas. In retaliation, he hires the hitman who usually takes care of all of his problems, a Santa-hating villain who goes by Skinny Man (Walton Goggins). With a penchant for collecting Santa-related memorabilia and a special despise for the holiday icon, Skinny Man is more than willing to make the trip to discover Santa’s location and subsequently terminate him. This plot is somehow both more and less off its rocker than it sounds.
In all honesty, the A-plot about Santa himself and his workshop troubles didn’t really deliver on the crazy premise. The tone sometimes felt weirdly childish, and at other times felt like a kid trying to be edgy with humor. Santa’s workshop being used to make weapons just isn’t as shocking and inherently hilarious as the writers seemed to assume it was; this is fine as a starter point for comedy but it needs other funny elements to complete the joke in a satisfying way. Not much was actually done with the elves themselves, who had one scene where the whole joke seemed to be that they only eat candy instead of real food. Kinda seems like a joke you’d expect from a cheesy family Christmas movie, right? If they wanted to make an adult Christmas comedy, it probably would’ve worked better with punchlines that satirize Christmas commercialization a bit more. They did this a little bit, but would’ve definitely benefited from sticking a bit closer to the satirical tone throughout. Of course, this is only the A-plot…the B-plot, on the other hand, was host to some of the funniest parts of the movie in my opinion. The storyline featuring Billy and Skinny Man actually delivered on the bonkers premise by giving us two Saturday morning cartoon-esque villains that cracked me up with how over-the-top they were. Chance Hurstfield especially does a great job for being such a young actor. It’s funny and enjoyable to see how dedicated he is to acting like a rich child psychopath who treats his house staff like secretaries in a business that he rules with an iron fist. He acts as though he’s preparing for his future role as a Bond villain and it is absolutely fantastic. As for Walton Goggins, he also puts on a good show as a bitter man-child who never got over being snubbed by Santa Claus and is just as hungry for revenge as Billy. Plus, instead of having a traditional villainous cat to stroke, he has a little hamster. It’s ridiculous, but fun. These two actors are undoubtedly pulling most of the weight for this entire film, as the story is alright and the rest of the cast runs about the same. Mel Gibson is a fine grumpy Santa, if you can ignore his real-life negative characteristics (which can be understandably difficult at this point for most viewers). Marianne Jean-Baptiste does fine with what she’s been given as well, and there aren’t really any others worth mentioning otherwise.
Fatman desperately wishes to be saying something more than it is, but the satire is half-baked and a lot of the jokes are trying too hard or simply don’t fit in the movie well. The tone is odd because of this, but the film is always at its funniest when it just lets its best cast members breathe and deliver their lines like the exaggerated baddies that they are. There is a pretty entertaining action scene at the end as well, and Billy getting his comeuppance is another good moment, but nothing compared to the introduction of the two best characters. If you’re looking for a smart Christmas film that has biting satire and balanced humor all the way through, you may have to keep looking. But if you want dumb fun in a wintery wonderland that’ll get you ready for Christmas with some chuckle-worthy moments and entertaining performances, then Fatman may be what you need this holiday season.
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