A movie like Fatman has to go a little too far—or, better yet, a lot—in order to work. If its subject is Santa Claus and the sappy-sweet holiday he embodies, extra edginess is called for. As White House Yule mistress Melania Trump said in a recent unguarded moment, “Who gives a fuck about the Christmas stuff…?”
I was so looking forward to this movie. Its premise seemed perfect. The Santa we meet here…well, first of all, he’s played by Mel Gibson, that’s new. He’s also very bummed about the generation of losers currently cluttering his naughty-or-nice list—they continually compel him to leave lumps of coal in most of their Christmas stockings. (In retaliation, some of them lie in wait with their deer rifles to shoot holes in Santa’s sleigh.) And because the Santa Claus we come to know here is subsidized by the government (“We want your holiday spirit, it generates holiday spending”), he only gets paid for the gifts he delivers, not the coal. “We’re the largest economic stimulus in the world,” he complains, “and we can’t even pay our power bill.”
So Santa is practically broke. And to meet his many business expenses (bell-toed elf boots aren’t cheap nowadays), he’s felt it necessary to sign an off-season contract with the military to manufacture parts for fighter jets. Now he’s really bummed.
Things can always get worse, of course, and they do. First, there’s a bratty kid named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a recipient of one of Santa’s many coal stockings this year. Billy, a blossoming psychopath, is still seething about this, and since he happens to employ his own personal assassin, he knows just what to do about it.
The assassin’s name is Jonathan Miller, and he’s played by the great Walton Goggins, who is as always a treat to watch. Miller moves through his world with a deeply insincere smile and some very large guns, and Goggins gets maximum mileage out of the quick clothing-store scene in which his character shops for stylish hitman attire. (“Tan makes me look fat. Green is fucking stupid.”)
But not even Goggins (or Gibson, who’s also good, in a folksier manner) can rein the movie in when writer-directors Eshom and Ian Nelms start driving it off a cliff. After the opening world-building (we’re told that to keep the elves in Santa’s workshop happily chugging along, they’re fed nothing but candy and cake), the picture abruptly becames a generic action flick of a sort that might have seemed pretty zippy 30 years ago, when really big explosions were perhaps more fun to sit and stare at. Fatman never recovers from this sudden eruption of ballistic overkill, which is too bad—the script held the promise of better things.