Gibson plays a gun-toting Santa in ‘Fatman’

Mel Gibson in Fatman / Saban Films

If you ever felt you needed a whiskey-swilling, gun-toting, grim-and-gritty Santa Claus, then “Fatman” might be the movie for you, or maybe not.

I’m not really sure of what to make of what this movie has to offer.

Written and directed by Eshom and Ian Nelms, “Fatman” is a bit hard to figure. I mistook it for a tongue-in-cheek, black comedy, but unless I missed something, it plays like a straight-up action movie set in a mostly realistic world where a more-grounded-than-usual Santa Claus (Mel Gibson) and elves actually exist.

There’s not as much pixie dust, glitter, and good will as is normally associated with the jolly old Fatman who makes his annual rounds on Christmas Eve, but Gibson plays Santa as sure as his character’s name is Chris Cringle.

Gibson’s Cringle has a beard, but it’s of he salt-and-pepper variety instead of snowy white. He’s a bit round, but he is as strong as several oxen, likes to work out by punching the sand out of a heavy bag, and takes target practice with a variety of pistols. His dead-eye marksmanship is key later in the film. This Cringle is magical, but it’s not as flashy as usually depicted.

Cringle has an unusually dark disposition and is down not only because the U.S. government has cut his subsidy in half but also because kids around the world are naughtier and meaner than ever. The only thing keeping him hinged is his wife, Ruth, played lovingly by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who is about the only halfway Christmasy character in the movie in terms of disposition.

Chris’ subsidy is tied to the number of gifts he gives. Kids were so bad this year that the subsidy check is only about half what the grizzled gift-giver needs to keep his workshop, which is a manufacturing facility somewhere north of Canada, afloat.

The solution is for Chris and the elves — the hard-working, pointy-eared, sugar-eating, and bells-on-their-shoes variety — to begin manufacturing weapons for the United States along with their yearly batch of toys.

Making matters worse is the fact that this Fatman is not only being used by the U.S. government but he also has enemies. In this world, you can’t going around giving coal to psychopathic kids and not expect some kind of payback.

Psychopath No. 1 is Billy (Chance Hurtsfield), a wicked little rich kid who hires Psychopath No. 2 Jonathan Miller (Walton Goggins) to execute a hit on the Fatman after he received a lump of coal for Christmas.

Goggins plays a stone-cold killer, who was let down by the Fatman as a child. Now he uses his deadly skills not only as a contract killer, but also to murder those who did receive their wish from the Fatman and steal their toys for his private collection.

Just explaining the plot makes me giggle a bit, but Gibson and Goggins play the entire movie absolutely straight, and the bloody shootout between the two in the snow is every bit as violent and gruesome as a climax from a Dirty Harry or Charles Bronson movie from the 1970s or ’80s if not more so.

There is something to the idea of “Fatman,” that could have worked in the right directing hands and with a sharper, wittier script, but unfortunately what the Nelms brothers concocted is an awkward creature that falls flat on the ice, despite some solid work by actors Jean-Baptiste, Gibson, and Goggins as well as cinematographer Johnny Derango, who shot a beautiful movie.

Give it a decade and “Fatman” might end up being a cult Christmas classic. Weirder things have happened, but to me this movie lacks the finesse and charm needed to make such an outlandish idea work.

If you want to watch a good Christmas movie with Gibson, check out “Lethal Weapon.”

(R) 1 hr. 40 min.
Grade: C-

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    Classic Corner – Lethal Weapon

    Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon / Warner Bros.

    Like “Die Hard,” director Richard Donner’s “Lethal Weapon” is another action flick set during the Christmas season.

    While I wouldn’t classify it as a “Christmas movie,” you don’t have to twist my arm to watch this buddy-cop movie any time of the year.

    The movie, of course, stars Mel Gibson as Sgt. Martin Riggs, a former Special Forces soldier, who now has a death wish as a cop after the death of his wife in a car accident. He’s teamed with veteran cop Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), who just turned 50 and is too old for this, uh, stuff.

    The two basically team up to take down a heroine-smuggling ring, run by former special forces operatives who worked together in the Viet Nam War.

    To me, the plot of the movie is incidental. It’s the character interplay between Gibson and Glover that drives the movie, along with the well-paced action Donner supervised from his director’s chair.

    Donner, who also directed “Superman: The Movie” and “The Goonies,” is an underrated. He always delivered highly entertaining, action movies with enough moving parts to keep you guessing but no make his efforts confusing. He had a knack for coaxing just the right performance out of the stars he chose for his projects.

    Gibson had been knocking around Hollywood for a decade, doing solid work and gaining popularity, particularly in three Road Warrior films, but he became a star thanks to the “Lethal Weapon” and its sequels. The chemistry between Gibson and Glover brought out the best comedically in both performers. “Lethal Weapon” certainly wasn’t the first of the buddy-cop movies that were so popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, but it is one of the best.