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Mel Gibson’s a Grizzled Santa in a Genre Mash-Up

There’s an attention-grabbing thought for a film in “Fatman,” which seeks to spin a bleak and wintry hitman story right into a deadpan darkish Christmas comedy by making Santa Claus the goal of that employed killer. It by no means makes it previous the concept stage, sadly, since mixing these disparate genres collectively would require an absolute mastery of tone that the movie can’t fairly muster.

Writers-directors Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms (“Small Town Crime”) actually can’t be faulted for ambition, however their huge thought doesn’t make all of it the best way down the chimney.

Despicable wealthy little one Billy (Chance Hurstfield, “A Million Little Things”) already has a working relationship with the murderer often called the Skinny Man (Walton Goggins), having not too long ago employed him to kidnap a classmate to power her to provide Billy a science-fair prize he thought was rightfully his. When Billy’s depraved methods earn him coal from Santa Claus (Mel Gibson), the child commissions the Skinny Man — who has his personal grudge towards the fats man — to take out Father Christmas, who’s offered right here as something however a proper jolly previous elf. (He’s not even significantly fats, though he’s what the youngsters would name “thicc.”)

Times are arduous for Santa: With so many children misbehaving, he’s delivering fewer presents, which, in flip, cuts into the subsidy he will get from the U.S. authorities. To break even this 12 months, he has to carry the elves again to work on a army contract, whereas the Skinny Man stalks his prey all the best way to his house base in Alaska, the place a bloody confrontation is sure to ensue.

“Fatman,” on paper, seeks to channel the existential motion films of the New Hollywood — suppose “Point Blank” or “Prime Cut” — solely set in a world the place Santa Claus exists. At the identical time, it seeks to make Santa make sense in that world by presenting him and his spouse Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), to not point out the elves, as hard-working, blue-collar folks with as little twinkle or magic as potential.

Again, these are attention-grabbing, provocative ideas, significantly on the earth of the Christmas film, however the targets of “Fatman” exceed its grasp; it needs to be humorous but additionally grim but additionally sensible but additionally about Santa Claus. Had the movie moved just a few levels in both route, upping the darkish humor or concentrating extra on minimalist despair and brutal motion, the Nelms brothers might need been onto one thing.

Even because it falls wanting its targets, there are discrete pleasures right here. Goggins comes closest to determining the film’s tone, giving us a ruthless killer who remains to be clearly pushed by childhood resentments, displaying utter sociopathy to his fellow human beings however doting on his beloved hamster. The ever-reliable Jean-Baptiste brings coziness, pragmatism and sexuality to Santa’s spouse, in all probability a primary within the vacation style. And if Gibson goes to age right into a grizzled display presence, higher that he accomplish that in R-rated automobiles like this one moderately than household fare like “Daddy’s Home 2,” the place his character’s reactionary misanthropy and misogyny is meant to be thought of cute.

There’s a constant imaginative and prescient for this model of Santa Claus all through, from the icy spareness of Johnny Derango’s cinematography to Jennifer Stroud’s costume design, which sees Chris Cringle as a flannel-shirt-and-jeans man moderately than somebody in a fur-trimmed pink go well with. The rating by Mondo Boys bypasses the movie’s makes an attempt at bleak humor and capabilities solidly in action-movie mode, however it does so successfully.

“Fatman” isn’t a lump of coal by any means. Think of it as an elaborate toy that exhibits up disassembled and with none directions. At least the items are good.

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