Mel Gibson as Santa Claus in "Fatman".

"Fatman" (M) *** and a half

THE first movie of the Christmas 2020 cinema season delivers a different view of Chris Cringle. He’s not just a jolly fat guy in a red suit who spends the eve of December 25 driving around Planet Earth delivering the modern equivalent of gold, myrrh and frankincense. 

No, he’s a businessman, and in 2020, business is falling somewhat behind.

The concept underlying “Fatman” comes from the filmmaking brothers Nelms, Eshom and Ian, who’ve written a screenplay that updates the Santa ethos just three years short of the double centenary of its creation in the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas". 

Santa really lives not at the North Pole but on a Canadian farm with his loving black American wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and those hard-working elves who toil throughout the year making all those gifts that he delivers. 

Playing Chris/Santa, Mel Gibson reminds us of his strong acting chops. To save the firm, he’s obliged to take a contract with the US Army. That’s just one of the story conceits that allows “Fatman” to build a bit of dramatic muscle, rather in the style that spelled out the Hollywood brand in the days when movies were finding their feet as the 20th century’s principal cultural gift to mankind. 

But the film’s main dramatic theme stems from 14-year-old spoiled brat Billy (Chance Hurstfield). Billy gets angry when his only gift under the Christmas tree turns out to be a lump of coal. So he engages a skinny hit-man (Walter Goggins) to take a contract on Chris Cringle. 

Well, you can’t do that, can you? Santa Claus nowadays performs the main role in celebrating the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth in a festival more mercantile than spiritual. The film doesn’t belabour that dichotomy. Rather, it spends its time being an entertainment built from intelligent observation of the occasion mixed with a nostalgic look back to those hey-days when action and imagination-filled movie houses before TV had grown into its greedy modernism.

I found “Fatman” an agreeable movie, cleverly written, well played, with a plot that sits comfortably with my opinion of Christmas wrapped with a nicely cynical view of today’s US around a package culminating in a typical shoot-out using those wonderful Hollywood small arms that don’t fire one well-aimed shot if a fusillade will suffice. 

At Dendy, Hoyts and Limelight

 

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Ian Meikle, editor