Mel IS "Fatman"

Nov 13, 2020

The first of my off-center holiday films.


Grade: B

Director: Eshom Nelms (Waffle Street), Ian Nelms (Waffle Street)

Screenplay: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Cast: Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Walter Goggins (Ant-Man and the Wasp)

Runtime: 1h 40m

Rating: R

By: John DeSando

“I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I've lost my influence. Maybe it's time I retired the coat.” Chris (Mel Gibson)

Fatman is neither It’s a Wonderful Life nor Die Hard. It is the most eccentric holiday story since Bad Santa, a tale of Chris in decline, accepting a government contract to keep his elf-driven enterprise going. That statement may give you an idea of how tonally this story covers the map from dark comedy, to thriller, to Western, and to most other genres in between.

Gibson is such a competent actor that as Chris he handily takes us through different emotional states so we are in his capable hands to make the story stand up. He shows his despair at the passing of his glory days, then softens us with his abiding love for his wife, Ruth (Marianne Jean Baptiste), and faces off an assassin, Skinny Man (a terrific Walton Goggins).

This is not the Fatman story we have grown up with—he is the reality of happiness, a state of confusion at once exultant at goodness and then morose at evil. Even his elves are not their traditionally cute—just diverse and surviving.

The ultimate bad guy is not Skinny but a pampered 12-year old, Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), who contracts Skinny to kill Chris as revenge on Chris giving Billy for Christmas a lump of coal (rather than bringing back to life his parents, as we find out later). Most of us would sulk for a day; Billy hires a gun. This film does not cater to our expectations about the mythical Christmas. In fact, it’s closer to the bloody time to which Christ Himself was born.

The emergence of the military into this well-known lore represents the intrusion of government into our imaginative and mythical life. However, the army comes off well, more a benign force than an intruder just as the elves are not spritely but mostly just good workers.

Fatman upends out given myth to update it into times fraught with combustible elections and rogue pandemics. Yet, good will out even in the direst of circumstances:

“I've come for your head, Fat Man!” Skinny Man

“You think you're the first? You think I got this job because I'm fat and jolly?” Chris

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at