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Fatman

Title: Fatman

Describe This Movie In One Futurama Quote:

ROBOT SANTA: Your mistletoe is no match for my TOW missile!

Brief Plot Synopsis: Deck the halls with blood and haunches.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 Chester A. Arthurs out of 5.

Tagline: "'Tis the season to get even."

Better Tagline: "The government do take a bite, don't she?"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Cris Cringle (Mel Gibson), responsible for supplying good children with presents every Christmas, is dealing with supply issues and thinner margins, thanks to dwindling numbers of gift-worthy kids. This forces him to take a contract from the U.S. Government, and if that wasn't enough, one lump of coal recipient has responded by hiring an assassin (Walton Goggins) to take out the jolly old elf once and for all.


"Critical" Analysis: The thing about most depictions of Santa Claus in film is, they tend to agree that the character is fundamentally good. In The Nightmare Before Christmas and Rise of the Guardians, he's basically a superhero. Negative takes focus more on the department store varieties (Bad Santa) or murderous impostors (Silent Night, Deadly Night).

Fatman's Santa never crosses the line into murder (at least, not that we see), but Eshon and Ian Helm's world-weary take on the character possesses more of an edge than past versions, yet clings to the basic interpretation of Father Christmas as a righteous dude.

Even, apparently, when portrayed by Mel Gibson.

Fatman is yet another reminder (2019's Dragged Across Concrete was another) that anti-Semitism and misogyny are easily packaged with acting talent. Gibson's Cringle suffers from a crisis of conscience and "a loathing for a world that's forgotten" him. In another cinematic universe, this might as well be Martin Riggs' final form.

At the same time, we're definitely in some alternative reality where Santa Claus isn't just real, but a kind of enhanced being with extensive global corporate and government contacts. And why not? If you believe in Santa — and who doesn't? — it would follow that he'd be wired in. As Cringle himself reminds the Defense Department (and us), Christmas is a trillion-dollar a year industry.

We have heard a lot in recent years about the economically disadvantaged, and in this area, Cringle has a legitimate beef. Though it should be said a lot of the downturn at Santa's Workshop is a result of Cringle's own rigid moral code when it comes to the List he may or may not be checking twice.

But that aspect of Fatman gets shelved alongside Cringle's relationship with his wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), which is a surprisingly touching high point, in favor of Skinny Man's mission. Goggins plays the role in almost unbearably straight fashion, and while he's a very good actor, he's not especially convincing as a hitman.

Because subject matter like this almost screams out for a more over-the-top approach. You've got a rich little shit hiring an assassin to bump off Santa Claus, who's also wrestling with the decision to become a DoD contractor. Fatman doesn't commit to either of these, so the advertised cat-and-mouse conflict between Gibson and Goggins never materializes, resulting in a largely anti-climactic shootout.

Some of it works. Jean-Baptiste is a high point, and the elvish hierarchy at the Workshop is interesting. Santa's own powers — such as his apparent omniscience and how he manages to visit every kid in the world in a single night — are hilariously downplayed.

And then there's Gibson. The leathery former heartthrob is actually quite convincing as the cynical, dissolute Cringle. Even after everything else, he's still a good enough actor to sell himself as a champion for the downtrodden and victimized. The problem is the "everything else," which — in spite of the industry's continued efforts to rehabilitate the man — show the real Gibson is anything but.

While his comeback tour continues haltingly apace (and a Best Director nom for Hacksaw Ridge notwithstanding), it appears unlikely Gibson will ever reattain the venerated status he enjoyed following Oscar wins for Braveheart and a $600 million box office return for The Passion of the Christ. Acting-wise, he seems content to hold down roles in smaller films, and maybe that's best for everybody. He's more easily avoidable that way.

Fatman is in select theaters.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar