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Fatman [Video Review]

Black Coal, Thin Gag: The Nelms Bros. Stalk Santa in Middling Comedic Thriller

Eshom-Ian-Nelms-Fatman-ReviewSanta Claus is apparently a federal employee in Fatman, a novel idea which posits Mel Gibson as the vaunted Christmas icon, Chris Kringle. However, the inspired casting married to adult themes straight out of a Coen Bros. escapade is unfortunately neither naughty nor nice, hiding its most interesting elements within the clutches of a throwaway side plot.

Directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms (Small Town Crime, 2017), it lacks both the necessary smarts and gravitas to walk a fine balance between fantasy and reality, sordidness and poignancy. Leaving audiences to mull the myriad of possibilities in which this presentation could have worked better both as entertainment and/or a capitalism critique, it does feature a surprisingly endearing portrait of a Mr. & Mrs. Kringle the narrative should have and could have spent more time with.

Things have been rough at Chris Kringle’s (Mel Gibson) toy factory. It seems he has a long-term contract with the US government which sees him paid for the number of toys delivered each Christmas season. However, increasingly, there aren’t enough deserving children to deserve toys, instead receiving their promised lump of coal. Now, to keep things afloat, Chris, along with wife Ruthie (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) have signed a temporary subsidized contract with the government which will see the elves manufacture weaponry for the US military. While he’s preoccupied with this, Chris is also targeted by a rich, angry preadolescent from Minneapolis named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), who hires an assassin (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa Claus because of the coal he’d received.

Where Fatman really stumbles is with its juvenile meanderings between the clunky dramatic catalysts, the caricature rich kid Billy (Chance Hurstfield doing exactly what he was hired to in portraying a malevolent spoiled brat akin to Christine Penmark of The Bad Seed) and Walton Goggins’ one-note assassin, both who have beefs with Santa. Had their plotlines been excised altogether with a different entry point for the ensuing violence (there are many ways in which to paint a scenario about a hit on Saint Nick), Fatman might not have had to oscillate so wildly between antics akin to Tim Allen’s 1990s Santa franchise and what presents itself as a strangely insidious tone of the celebrated Christian icon having to subsidize his government contract as a weapons manufacturer (maybe if it had dedicated itself more specifically in this vein, akin to something like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2009 Micmacs, a film which also struggled tonally in this realm). On the positive side, Gibson is strangely likeable as the magical man who has lost his Christmas spirit (hey, like Signs, 2002), as is the cheeky energy shared by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, the spiritual backbone of his operation.

Executive produced by the likes of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, Fatman never reaches beyond the promise of its logline, and doesn’t present the dark energies of something like 2010’s Rare Exports from Finland or the violent energy Gibson revisited in the underrated Blood Father (2016).

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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