Review: ‘Fatman’

Mel Gibson Is A Hard-Drinking, Gun-Toting Santa In A Christmas Comedy Without Holiday Cheer

Let me be real on something here: Fatman is the sort of film most people are going to see purely for the shock, and the deliberately offensive casting of Mel Gibson as a dirty-bearded, broke off his ass, cookie-chomping, cynical Chris Cringle aka Santa Claus. There is literally no other reason for this movie to exist. It doesn’t offer the hilarious raunchy take on Santa that Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa does, and it’s just sort of grim and oddly paced. But if you ever wanted to see Santa get into a shootout with an angry assassin while elves flee in terror, this is the movie for you.

Dear ol’ Santa is having a rough go of it. He and Mrs. Claus aka Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) may have been at this whole gift-giving thing for millennia but they are as effected by the economic crisis as anybody. Not only that, but kids don’t make the “Nice” list like they used to.

“There is a rising number of youth making poor decisions. This has unfortunately caused our yearly subsidy to be well below our current budget.”

Yeah, that’s right. Santa gets paid by the government to do his thing each year. But even they are giving him the squeeze, and that has made Chris into a cranky, beer-drinking, old coot. Maybe his name should’ve been Chris Cranky? Making matters worse are spoiled brats like Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a rich kid who lives with his clueless grandmother and basically abandoned by his busy father. Billy treats the help like shit and is so entitled he threatens with torture the girl who beats him in the science fair. Not like joke torture, either, because the kid has an assassin (Walton Goggins) on speed dial, and he does not make threats. When Santa dares leave Billy a lump of coal in his stocking, the kid puts out a hit on the Fatman.

The funny thing is, Santa’s not that hard to find. He lives in “North Peak” right out in the open; he frequents a bar, has friends at the post office, and has the uncomfortable ability to know everybody and everything about them. That makes him pretty tough to hide. Most of the movie finds Goggins’ morose hitman, referred to as the “Skinny Man”, trekking up north, indulging in his various quirks, while murdering the people he asks for help. There’s a hint that Goggins is trying to make more of this movie than writers/directors Eshom and
Ian Nelms have actually given him. A smart, dark comedy that tackles the same issues of holiday consumerism as A Charlie Brown Christmas, seen through the eyes of a wayward killer and a grumpy Santa could’ve been fantastic.

But Fatman, try as it might, isn’t that movie. It’s slow, not particularly witty, and doesn’t come alive until the final confrontation. It’s clear the Nelms’, who directed the underrated indie Small Town Crime, had plans to explore how social ills and economic decline have impacted the jolliest man on Earth, but little of that actually comes through other than Chris’ occasional grumblings.

There are sweet moments to be found between Chris and Ruth, the latter always busy making cookies, taking care of the worker elves, and helping her husband ease his tension. Definitely not for the kiddos, unless you want them to see Mr. and Mrs. Claus do the horizontal mambo. A very funny conversation breaks out between the military brass and the head elf over their diet, which consists of sugary treats and baked goods. Sadly, such interactions are few and far between.

Even if Fatman were something you’d be interested in just to see how far it can cross the line, it isn’t nearly as edgy as it could be. A bloody shootout erupts that sees Santa do some things that would put him on the “Naughty” list, too (“You think I got this job for being fat?”), but honestly nobody is getting much of a gift out of this one.


Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.