Mel Gibson offers ‘darkly funny’ take on Santa Claus

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Ever wonder what Mel Gibson is up to these days? Apparently he’s making a gritty, dark comedy Christmas movie that’s actually pretty good.

“Fatman” is not about to become a new family holiday classic. But it is a darkly funny take on Santa Claus and the Christmas season, an attempt at satire that I think works better as a straight forward film. “Fatman” is available now on video-on-demand and might be a really good mood breaker for this gloomy, quarantine holiday season.

Gibson also gives one heck of a nifty performance as a rather unique take on Chris Cringle.

The story is simple. A rich, spoiled brat of a kid gets coal for Christmas, so he hires a hitman to head up to the North Pole and kill Santa. Meanwhile, with Christmas Spirit in the dumps these days, Santa is forced to take on a military contract at his workshop to keep the lights on.

“Fatman” is actually two different movies merged into one, and I like both of them. The first movie is the assassin plot, with Walter Goggins as the killer on a journey up North, eventually facing off with old Saint Nick at his workshop. Goggins does a spectacular job as this aggrieved hitman who has never forgiven Santa for never giving him any presents as a kid.

The shootout at the North Pole that ends the film is just fun. Santa’s got a gun, the two men face off. It’s not a high-flying, rope-trick action scene. It’s as grounded and ugly as the rest of the movie. And it’s a solid, enjoyable climax to this weird, gritty movie. The hitman character is especially neat, in that he’s got all of these little tics and details to him, like his pet hamster.

Specificity is where this movie really shines, and it plays into the second film: Santa and his industrial workshop. The writers behind “Fatman” have crafted their own intricate lore for Santa Claus and it’s really fun. This isn’t the typical jolly red elf on the Coca-Cola bottle. Gibson’s Santa is a real person, but there’s also magic involved, because he’s seemingly immortal and has elves working in his factory. But this magic is all matter-of-fact and not at all showy. His factory is a real factory, complete with an elf foreman and a break room.

Even the military aspect is rather fun. Instead of taking the easy route and making the military out to be stereotypical joyless bad guys, their contract with Santa works out for everybody. And I really enjoyed the scenes where the captain in charge marveled at the efficiency of the all-elf work force, or when he was allowed to enjoy a yummy Christmas cookie.

“Fatman” is not a movie for children, but it is a fun movie. It’s a gritty, very detailed, very grounded story about a new kind of Santa, who is nonetheless steeped in the magic of the season. And he’s got a gun.

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