• Nate Adams

Review: Mel Gibson is gritty, gun wielding Santa Claus in bonkers 'Fatman'


Courtesy of Saban Films

In case you’re still checking items off the 2020 bingo card, I doubt anyone predicted a hard R rated Christmas flick in which Mel Gibson plays a gritty Santa Claus - who has to fend off a hitman sent to kill him by a bratty child upset that he received coal under a tree - would see the light of day. 


So goes the tale of “Fatman,” Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms bonkers action flick that puts a sadistic spin on the yuletide season. In this world, Santa Claus exists, but as an employee of the government who receives yearly subsidiaries to keep his operation going. And with steady cases of naughty children rising, productivity is down, forcing Chris Cringle (Gibson) to accept a contract from the United States Army to transition his toy shop (and legion of elves) to constructing military grade tech. 


Speaking of naughty children, Billy Wenan (Chance Hurtsfield) lives with his frail grandmother, forging her signature on expensive checks to pay an assassin (Walter Goggins) to execute his dirty deeds. For example, when Billy gets runner-up at his seventh-grade science fair (he’s won the previous five years) he uses his grandmother’s deep pockets (and hitman pal) to coerce the winner to concede. Not exactly what you’d call the prime candidate for Santa’s nice list.


When Billy receives a giant lump of coal under the tree on Christmas morning, he demands justice and enlists the Skinny Man (the actual name for Goggin’s character) to track down Santa and take him out. It’s a fitting scenario considering Skinny Man has his own childhood beef with Mr. Claus, often purchasing items made in Santa’s workshop from helpless shmoos to sooth open wounds. But Gibson’s Santa Claus isn’t the jolly, happy-go-lucky character from Saturday morning TV specials. He’s a repressed alcoholic with heavy artillery and is kept in check by his wife Ruth (Marianne Jean Baptiste - terrific). His elves don’t have names, just numbers and their diet consist of “basic sugars and carbs.” It’s a unique premise that I can ascertain hasn’t been attempted before. 


Gibson’s controversial past aside, “Fatman” is a fun romp that understands not to take itself too seriously, concluding with a fire fight at the North Pole that begs the question: When’s the last time you saw Santa Claus wielding two pistols trying to stop the bad guys? Goggins delivers his performance with a wink and a nod, spouting expletives like its common language and determined in his quest to execute Santa, killing anyone who gets in his way. In a film like “Fatman,” actors need to understand the joke or things fail miserably. Sure, it’s a bit frantic, moving from one sequence to the next and enjoyment will vary based on your suspension of plausibility, except one can’t help and wonder what a Mel Gibson Santa Claus vs a Tim Allen Santa Claus might look like. I’d put money on Gibson, but that’s just me.


Grade: B


FATMAN opens in select theaters November 13th and debuts on demand and digital November 24th.