When my husband suggested we watch the new Mel Gibson movie Fatman, I rolled my eyes.
I said, “That sounds campy and dumb.”
I settled in, ready for MST3K-style heckling of my television. But it turned out I was wrong about this darkly funny dystopian take on Santa Claus.
First things first: Fatman is rated R for a reason. There is language, violence, and gore throughout, and Kris Kringle is in the thick of it, guns blazing. If he was in the army, he’d owe a pretty penny to the chaplain’s cuss cup.
The North Pole is in the red. Santa comes home from his big sleigh ride with buckshot wounds and complaints about how kids these days don’t respect authority or have any Christmas spirit. This Santa is a sour old cuss, not a jolly happy soul. Then when one of the sociopathic kids Santa visited gets coal instead of toys, he calls in a hit on the Fat Man. Things get even more complicated when Santa takes on a contract with the U. S. military to keep the lights on.
If it sounds bizarre, it is. But Fatman somehow manages to fully commit to a dystopian Santa Claus while not taking itself too seriously. If you have a dark sense of humor (and I do), there is much to chuckle about. The fact that this hardened Kris Kringle can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake is terrifying and played up for great comic effect.
In one of my favorite moments, Santa is confronted by a crazed lunatic yelling, “I’ve come for your head, Fatman!”
Santa replies in a comically bleak tone, “You think you’re the first? You think I got this job because I’m fat and jolly?”
It’s so ridiculous that it works. This is Santa as avenging angel, or maybe a funny but horrifying Santa/Krampus hybrid.
Another favorite part was Mrs. Claus. I’m a fan of Marianne Jean-Baptiste ever since I saw her in Broadchurch, and she has an excellent turn as the stress-knitting wife who can handle a pistol as easily as a tray of cookies. In Hollywood’s sea of broken onscreen marriages, the relationship between Santa and his missus made me turn to my husband and say, “This is how marriage ought to be shown in movies.” The sweet concern the Clauses had for each other gave the movie a note of warmth underneath the chilly storyline.
Look at it this way: If you rant that Die Hard is definitely a Christmas movie so someone will watch an action movie with you during Yuletide, you have an alternative no one can argue with. Fatman is definitely a Christmas movie, even if most of the characters get coal in their stockings. And it has about the same level of mayhem, violence, and dark humor as Bruce Willis’s classic movie.
I was pleasantly surprised that I liked Fatman. It managed to mine laughs and even a little sweetness from the bleak tundra of a dystopian North Pole. After the wild ride of 2020, Fatman feels like the Santa Claus movie we should expect.