Fat Santa

‘Fatman,’ Mel Gibson’s sour Christmas action satire

Just picture the pitch meeting: Mel Gibson as not-so-jolly old Saint Nick. That’s pretty much the gist of what passes for narrative invention in the action satire Fatman, a sour look at a very sweet holiday icon.

Who, pray tell, is Fatman? “Santa Claus, motherfucker!” yells bitter hitman Jonathan Miller (Walton Goggins). By the way, even though someone in the film calls him Jonathan Miller, the end credits list him as Skinny Man. So, for clarity, I’ll just refer to him as Skinny Assassin. Skinny Assassin had a twisted childhood living with a psychotic dad. “You never forget the smell of burning flesh and menthols,” he says. Yikes. For some idiotic reason, he blames his horrible upbringing on Kris Kringle—or, rather, Chris Cringle, as it’s spelled in this outré iteration of the Yuletide legend.

FATMAN ★★(2/5 stars)
Directed by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
Written by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
Starring:Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Running time: 99 min

According to filmmakers Eshom and Ian Nelms, Father Christmas is actually a jaded old man with a shock of wolfish grey hair, a rugged silvery beard, and a habit of dropping Alka-Seltzer tablets into his shots of whiskey. “I’ve lost my influence,” he says wearily. “Christmas is a farce. I’m a joke.” And kids today are rotten to the core. “There is a rising number of our youth making poor decisions,” he explains, accusing them of antics like throwing bowling balls off bridges. That naughty/nice list has become disturbingly asymmetric.

Santa therefore has fewer presents to manufacture and more lumps of coal to deliver. He also relies on the U.S. government to subsidize his inventory and elf labor force, since he doesn’t get a cut of the $3 trillion economic stimulus he gives the U.S. economy. Why all the talk about cash? Dunno, Santa doesn’t actually generate revenue other than peace on earth and goodwill to men. But this year, the Fed’s financial subsidy isn’t even half the cost of his operating expenses. Again, what operating expenses? He effectively runs an enchanted charity.

But, fine, let’s roll with it. Santa needs money. So, a week after the Christmas rush, a bunch of Deep-State suits get him to sign a two-month military contract. And Santa calls back his elves to make control panels for fighter jets. Huh? Honestly, so many questions. Least of which: why are Santa’s elves qualified to make control panels? And, if these caustic filmmakers are going to have a depressed Santa and his ever-chipper elves work on weapons of war, why not just go all the way and force them to make napalm?

Anyway, Santa’s workshop is overrun with soldiers and Santa is drowning his sorrows in booze and iced sugar cookies. “The whole damned operation’s going tits up,” says Santa, which, coming from Mel Gibson, just reminds me that the actor once drunkenly called a female cop “sugar tits.” Merry Christmas!

“The whole damned operation’s going tits up,” says Santa, which, coming from Mel Gibson, just reminds me that the actor once drunkenly called a female cop “sugar tits.” Merry Christmas!

Adding insult to injury, a sociopathic rich kid in Minnesota gets a lump of coal from Santa and goes apeshit. He also gets a crappy teddy bear FedEx’ed the day after Christmas from his deadbeat dad in the Bahamas. And he calls Skinny Assassin to wreak some vengeance. On his unloving father, you might think? No! On Santa Claus, motherfucker!

You see where this is going. An assassin tracks down Santa and the movie climaxes with the inevitable blood-drenched, gun-toting showdown. “You think you’re the first one?” yells Santa after Skinny Assassin tries to kill him. “You think I got this job because I’m fat and jolly?” Okay, what in the serious fuck? Other people have tried to kill Santa? And, if so, at a certain point it does beg the question that maybe Santa actually did do something to deserve the bounty on his head. Also, Mel Gibson is hardly fat and definitely not jolly.

Props to the Nelms for at least injecting a bit of overheated machismo and Tarantinoesque irreverence into the Christmas season. It’s always refreshing to see a skewed take on treacly totems. But it’ll take a lot to beat the other Santa-faces-a-hitman riff, MadTV’s superior and genuinely unsettling Goodfellas-meet-Rankin/Bass parody short Raging Rudolph, with classic lines like “Does my nose amuse you? Is it funny, like a clown?” Also, I gotta admit that roping in Mel Gibson for the title role is objectively hilarious. Sure beats suffering through Tim Allen in another sequel to The Santa Clause.

One side note: the ever-delightful Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Mrs. Claus, which is either very progressive or just throwing an interracial-marriage curveball to knee-jerk haters who might dismiss this Santa-as-avenging-angel harangue as reactionary white Christian entertainment. Don’t worry: there are so many other reasons to dismiss the film.

Bad Santa. Mel Gibson in ‘Fatman’.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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