Released: 18th November
Seen: 26th November
When it comes to iconography that must be handled with care, I can’t think of an image more precious than that of Santa Claus. A universal symbol of love and joy, it’s something you have to be careful with especially if you decide to use that imagery in a transgressive manner. If, for example, you plan on making an over the top slasher film like Silent Night, Deadly Night then you had better go all out and make good use of what you’re playing with.
You could also use the image of Santa for comedic value, the evil robot Santa of Futurama is a prime example of a hilarious evil Santa that plays with the iconography in fun interesting ways. One big thing with this is you probably shouldn’t go half assed when you use that kind of imagery because otherwise you just seem like an edgelord instead of being actually edgy in an interesting manner… and that, right there, is the problem with Fatman.
Fatman begins as many Christmas stories do, with a little boy named Billy (Chance Hurstfeld) writing a letter to Santa (Mel Gibson). Like all little boys, Billy just wants a few new toys for that one special day… unfortunately for Billy, he’s a cruel little bastard who disrespects everyone, hires hitmen to torture his competition at school science competitions and is generally a little shit. This habit of “Being a little shit” ends up putting Billy on the naughty list, as he discovers when wakes up on Christmas morning to find a lump of coal under the tree. Billy responds to this in a perfectly natural manner… he hires his usual hitman (Walton Goggins) to go kill Santa.
As far as concepts go, this is a banger. A greedy kid hiring a hitman to kill Santa? It’s the kind of dark comedy concept that lends itself to all manner of great comedic potential. I mean, just imagine Santa using his Christmas magic against a crazed assassin armed to the teeth? The scenes write themselves… or at least, I would’ve thought they would but Fatman barely seems to understand just what it’s been given.
Almost every chance they get, Fatman pulls it’s punches which is a shame because when they actually do something that matches the potential they’ve been given (Such as a scene where the assassin tries to call to find where Chris Cringle lives, the comedic highlight of the movie), things almost start to work again… before breaking apart under its own weight.
One major thing that keeps popping up is that Fatman is trying too hard to make things as realistic as possible by asking pointless questions like “How does Santa afford to make all the toys?” and instead of answering in the correct manner (Who gives a damn, it’s Santa), this film comes up with a subplot about a military grant being given to Santa. A significant amount of the film involves the US army hiring Santa’s workshop in order to build weapons… the climax never uses this.
The army is only a part of the movie because then our assassin can shoot a bunch of army guys instead of the elves, because I guess that’d be too dark? Also Fatman only asks these questions sometimes, things like “How does Santa deliver toys in one night” or “Is Santa immortal” get to be answered with magic because there are no good answers to those questions which leads to a weird tonal issue, we’re realistic one minute but then ignoring realism all together the next, it’s quite annoying.
When you can sit through a film and figure out where a good joke could go or how to make a scene funnier, that’s a bit of a problem because Fatman isn’t really engaging and clearly didn’t think through the concept that it’s working with. It’s a film that should be compelling, either by the insanity of the scenario (which it takes so seriously that it sucks out the comedy) or by the darkness of the jokes (which are barely even tinted, let alone actually dark).
Instead I spent most of the time just kind of bored which shouldn’t be possible in a film about Santa trying to deal with an assassination attempt (that he doesn’t seem to know about until it happens, despite them setting up that he kind of knows everything… again, magic vs realism makes for an annoying problem).
Then we get to the casting of Mel GIbson as Santa, which is just not a good choice at all. If you can push all his baggage aside (and I get if you can’t, it’s a lot of heavy baggage filled with anti-Semitism and so many other horrible things) then we’re left with a character who it’s impossible to believe was ever Jolly or even fat enough to create the image that we know as Santa. On top of that, I just don’t buy his change into the gruff dark Santa we get by the end of this because he’s pretty much that same character from the start of the film, just a tiny bit more subdued.
It’s a little like how Stephen King felt about casting Jack Nicholson in The Shining, you know that man is crazy from the second he turns up so there’s no real surprise here. I know that Mel Gibson’s Santa is going to be a violent cruel bastard from the second I saw him so there’s no surprise or shock when he picks up a gun and starts firing. You cast someone like a John Lithgow or a John Goodman, then we have something here but Mel just doesn’t sell me on this character… and also, ya know, all that anti-Semitism and racist bullshit.
Lost potential is a killer to a film that relies so heavily on its concept, and Fatman dies almost completely because it doesn’t embrace the concept it’s been gifted. It ends up falling flat because it won’t actually go for broke, choosing instead to play everything so serious that there’s large periods of pointlessness peppered by potential. Turns out that when the band Rudolph & The Gang wrote “Here comes fatty with his sack of shit”, they were talking about this film. It doesn’t even really try to be the film that the poster promises and that’s just no fun.