‘Fatman’ Is The Christmas Movie For 2020
SANTA MONICA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Actor-filmmaker Mel Gibson arrives at The 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.
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Every year, holiday Christmas movies tend to come packaged in a red and green container of the same clichés. Either Santa Claus is animated as a real life, jolly purveyor of Christmas cheer, or the movie forgoes the fabled white beard and instead weaves a tacky love story, connecting alienated families, strangers and John Cusack.

And just as with the repetitive dirge of Christmas music that dominates radio airwaves starting every November, we generally go along with it, attributing it to being “part of the Christmas spirit!” But sometimes you need a break. In a year where everything else seems upended and spun on its head, why shouldn’t holiday films? It’s at times like these when you most need to forget about the seriousness of what’s happening in the world and revel in 90 minutes of absurdist humor for absurdist humor’s sake.

Written and directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms, Fatman is a ridiculous movie about an affluent spoiled brat (played by Chance Hurstfield) who receives coal for Christmas and decides to exact revenge, hiring a hitman to kill Santa. Jettisoning any and all previously held conceptions of Santa Claus, the film reimagines the jolly, red-suited effigy of Christmas as Mel Gibson.

Sporting a rugged, greying beard and adorned in haggard clothes that could have been stripped off a mannequin at an army supply store, Gibson’s Claus — whose vocabulary is largely comprised of various grunt noises — completes the disheveled look with a red jalopy of a pickup truck and an M1911 firearm. He’s Lethal Weapon’s Martin Riggs in retirement — a misanthropic, greying stoic.

Fatman replaces all the standard holiday movie banalities with a fresh set of clichés culled from the gritty, criminal underworlds of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers. While it doesn’t deliver at nearly the same caliber as the works from either director, it doesn’t try to. After all, none will watch Fatman expecting No Country for Old Men or Reservoir Dogs. It’s as absurd in its premise as Elf but isn’t weighed down by any of the insincere cheesiness. It’s a guilty pleasure action flick, imbued with firefights, kidnappings, extortion, and mass-murder. Once you’ve already seen Die Hard, what more could you want from a Christmas movie?

The humor in the Nelms brothers’ Fatman derives from the poker-face seriousness with which every scene is executed. Part of the joke is that Fatman doesn’t try to portray itself as a comedy — everything is situationally funny. 

In one scene, the slick-haired, prepubescent villain disappointingly finishes second place in his school science fair. His reaction? He has his hitman kidnap the science fair winner and intimidates her with electrocution into surrendering her first-place ribbon. In another scene, the hitman shoots a postal worker after discretely asking him where he delivers the letter to Santa Claus.

Along these same lines, in the world of Fatman, nearly every facet of your favorite childhood Christmas movie is flipped on its head. Santa’s sleigh rides aren’t the smooth, jovial flights as portrayed in such misleading songs as “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Ever wonder what really happens when Santa flies over Detroit or Chicago? In Mel Gibson’s world, Santa deals with anti-aircraft hoodlums firing slugs into his sleigh, as he climbs into bed with Mrs. Claus (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), nursing bullet wounds.

Have you ever considered the financial affairs of the North Pole? While most Christmas classics such as A Christmas Story conveniently gloss over crucial economic realities, Fatman tackles them head-on. Mel Gibson’s frayed and grizzled Santa not only deals with the whims of disgruntled children who send hitmen to kill him, but also with the heartless needs of a free market economy, as the US government threatens to cut his funding. Determined to keep Santa’s Workshop open and his fleet of elves employed, Santa resorts to taking up a military contract with the Department of Defense. Is there anything better than picturing Santa’s elves assembling parts for F-22 Raptors?

When Mel Gibson as Santa Claus finally meets his unnamed, bounty hunting adversary — played superbly by Walton Goggins, whose slick, withdrawn hair and bulging eyes checkmark all the boxes of a bona fide sociopath — on the snowy battlefield, Gibson alludes to a larger, and even more ridiculous backstory, exclaiming, “You think you’re the first?” 

Fatman isn’t Hollywood Oscar bait or fodder for critics — notwithstanding the small number of verified ratings, its Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score, at 83% positive, dwarfs the critics, at 47%. It’s a simple yet original Christmas movie for everyone who fervently wants Die Hard to be a Christmas movie. It isn’t epic or bound for awards galas; it’s just plain fun. And in the holiday season of 2020, we could always use some plain fun.

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