Fatman is about six different types of crazy, and I kind of like that about the movie. Every so often, we get a “naughty” Christmas picture, like Bad Santa or Krampus, that eschews the feel-good vibe of most yuletide fare in favor of profanity, sex, and/or violence. This one has all three to some degree, as it tells what might be the most unlikely Santa story since Santa Claus vs. the Martians. If It's a Wonderful Life is too upbeat for you, prepare to potentially have a new holiday favorite.
Mel Gibson plays Chris Cringle, a toymaker who lives in North Point, a place suspiciously similar to the North Pole. He and beloved wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) run a factory, staffed by elves, that produces toys for the world's children. Business hasn't exactly been booming, however, because more and more kids are misbehaving these days. Consequently, the factory is having financial problems. A solution presents itself when the American government contracts with Chris to manufacture parts for military aircraft. No one is happy about it, but it's a way to keep the operation going.
That's actually the least of Chris's problems. A snotty, spoiled rich kid named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) is pissed that Santa brought him a lump of coal last year. He hires a hitman known as “Skinny Man” (Walton Goggins) to assassinate Santa. And Skinny Man is more than happy to take the gig, given that he has his own long-festering grudge to act upon. The killer heads toward North Point, weaponry in hand.
The two halves of Fatman don't really mesh together well. Turning Santa's workshop into a military operation is more like a B-story rather than a part of the main plot. Writer/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms (Small Town Crime) could have done a better job of blending them. That dual-personality tone is by far the movie's biggest flaw. At times, it's almost like flipping back and forth between two completely different films that just happen to feature Santa Claus. Even weirder, either half could have been developed as a longer story. No need exists to include them both under the same roof.
Each half does have its own cuckoo appeal, though. The Santa-as-military contractor side has moments where it's a sly satire of jingoism. Elf workers prove uncommonly good at the task, so the government wants to give them more and more work. The half involving the killer is still the better of the two, thanks to Walton Goggins. Based on his work in Fatman, someone should cast him in an Airplane!-like comedy. He's hilarious as the super-intense Skinny Man, rudely cussing people out and dropping sarcastic one-liners with all the self-seriousness a guy like this would certainly possess. Goggins never acts like he's trying to be funny, which of course just makes his performance even funnier.
I'll admit that it's hard to watch Mel Gibson on screen anymore, due to the multiple scandals in his personal life, including racist and anti-Semitic speech. Putting that aside to the degree that I can, he's fine here, bringing an amusing grumpiness to Chris. Gibson may be the character referred to in the title, yet this is Goggins' show all the way. The actor is so good that we almost root for Skinny Man to win, if only so we can see him in a sequel or spinoff.
Lots of wacky stuff can be found in Fatman, ensuring that it's never boring. Goggins is the wackiest of them all, and his bloody journey to find Santa is oddly, darkly entertaining.
out of four
Fatman is rated R for bloody violence, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.