[Screen It]


(2020) (Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins) (R)

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Action/Black Comedy: After receiving a lump of coal for Christmas, a disgruntled rich kid hires a hitman to kill Santa.

Having performed their duties over dozens if not hundreds of years or longer, Chris (MEL GIBSON) and Ruth (MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE) know a thing or two about Christmas, what with being Santa and Mrs. Claus. Operating out of the Arctic Circle town of North Peak, their elf-run factory churns out the gifts and Chris delivers all of them, but that number has dwindled recently.

And that's because being the all-seeing figure he is, Chris realizes more kids than ever have been bad or naughty and thus has only delivered lumps of coal to them. But considering he's paid by the Feds for the number of gifts he delivers -- thus spurring on the domestic economy -- revenue is down and he and Ruth are having a hard time making ends meet. Thus, he's considering accepting an offer by the U.S. military to have his elves build fighter jet control panels under the direction of Captain Jacobs (ROBERT BOCKSTAEL) and his men.

All of which has left Chris in anything but the Christmas spirit And that's about to get worse considering that one of those kids who received coal this year -- rich, spoiled brat Billy Wenan (CHANCE HURSTFIELD) who's used to getting his way -- has hired his favorite hitman, Jonathan Miller, a.k.a. the Skinny Man (WALTER GOGGINS), to track down and kill Santa.

With a grudge against St. Nick stemming from a bad childhood, the assassin gladly accepts the job and has no problem leaving a wake of bodies in his deadly quest as he tries to track down the formerly jolly but now dour "fatman."

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10

Considering how fractured and quick to angrily argue politics Americans have become, it makes one long for the good ol' days when arguments broke out over the color of a dress shared in social media posts, which actor best portrayed James Bond, and whether the original "Die Hard" film is a Christmas movie or not.

I realize it's not too likely that the average citizen has even pondered the latter matter, but in certain movie fan circles it's a highly debated topic (just do a Google search asking "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" and be amazed at the plethora of results, including from respectable publications).

Of course, there's no denying the film is set in Los Angeles during the Christmas season and has lots of Christmas related elements scattered throughout. That said, others will argue that a violent, heist-based action flick isn't exactly Christmas fodder.

Well, now we have another violent action film set at Christmas but this time starring Mel Gibson (no, not "Lethal Weapon," although it also fits the temporal bill) and there's no point debating whether it's a Christmas movie or not. After all, it features Santa, elves in the factory, lumps of coal as gifts for bad kids, and the related theme of disappointing Christmases past and present as well as the commercialization of the holiday.

The question is whether it's a good one, a bad one, or something of a missed opportunity. Written and directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms, the film certainly feels more in line with the likes of "Bad Santa" than, say, "Miracle on 34th Street" or "The Santa Clause."

In it, Gibson plays Chris, as in Kris Kringle, a.k.a. Santa, or as some refer to him in the film, our title character. He's disillusioned with his role, not really simply from having delivered gifts worldwide for a significant but non-specified amount of time, but more so due to so many kids being bad nowadays.

And since -- surprise, surprise -- the Feds actually pay Santa for the number of gifts his elf workshop makes and delivers, his income is down greatly this year. All of which means he and Mrs. Claus, a.k.a. Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), are going to have a hard time making ends meet and will have to make some hard choices, such as contracting the elves out to make military equipment for Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) and the DoD.

One of those bad kids is Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) whose uber-wealthy father is off in the islands with his latest girlfriend, leaving the spoiled brat to take out his condescending grievances on the beleaguered house staff. So when Billy receives a lump of coal from Santa as his Christmas gift, he does what any other American kid would do -- he speed-dials the ruthless hitman (Walton Goggins) he has on retainer and puts a contract on less than jolly old Saint Nick's head.

It seems the hired gun -- listed in the credits as The Skinny Man -- has a long-standing grudge with Santa based on a bad childhood and thus has no problem leaving a wake of bodies in his path as he makes his way toward Chris' operational base in North Peak.

Considering Santa truly lives by the facts presented in his "Coming to Town" song -- and demonstrates that at various points such as informing a traveling businessman that he knows of the man's affair intentions with the local bartender and thus sends him on his way -- it's more than a little surprising that Chris doesn't see the hitman coming and thus save the lives of various soldiers who end up gunned down before the big, Old West-style standoff that concludes the third act.

This is certainly an odd duck of a flick from co-writers/directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms and not just because it's an atypical Christmas movie. At times it fully engaged me but at others, it left me frustrated by the disparate material not feeling fully formed and certainly not coming together in a satisfying whole.

The performances are good, but the action isn't remarkable, the social commentary about commercialism vs. the holiday spirit sometimes feels half-baked, and the comedy (whether black, satire, or straight up) likewise feels as if it needed another pass or two or ten through the script rewrite and refining process.

Although it's not a cinematic lump of coal, it's clearly not the sort of movie present you'll cherish or want to revisit during the end of any given year. And while it passes enough seasonal muster to avoid the "Die Hard' Christmas movie debate, it's not otherwise good enough to spark much conversation about it. "Fatman" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 9, 2020 / Posted November 13, 2020

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