Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

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There’s a timely message or two to be found amid the carnage that is Eshom and Ian Nelms’ “Fatman,” a would-be dark comedy that attempts to skewer the commercialization of Christmas as well as the uptick in violence seen in our youth.

Obvious targets, but what with our society’s 20-second attention span, it wouldn’t hurt to explore them again. You’ll have to look elsewhere for intelligent examination, though, as the brothers use them as an excuse to construct a mayhem-driven parody that, while it has its moments, never hits its stride.

In many ways, the film is fitting for 2020 — the world is a mess, and “normalcy” has become a quaint word used to describe a way of life that’s steadily drifting from our collective memory. So a movie about a hit man hired by a petulant kid to kill a grumpy, disillusioned Santa Claus seems about right.

Mel Gibson is the bitter fat man, disillusioned by the way the spirit of the holiday season has been wiped out thanks to rampant consumerism and general greed. While he may have cut kids some slack in the past, he has no problem letting those who don’t toe the line know they’re on the naughty list.

His distribution of coal has had a dramatic uptick, and poor little rich kid Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) does not take kindly to receiving his. A textbook bully, he uses money from his grandma’s account to hire Skinny Man (Walton Goggins), an assassin with issues of his own who eagerly takes this contract.

Tone is so important when doing parody, and let’s just say the Nelms’ are deaf. Their premise has promise but their execution is by and large wrong. The most glaring error is the directors’ brand of violence, taking a gratuitous approach instead of an over-the-top, comic tack that would have been more fitting.

Yes, Skinny Man is an assassin, but we see him ply his trade far too often when a bit of imaginative writing would have him achieve his goals without always eliminating every Tom, Dick and Harry that crosses his path. As the body count rises, any potential fun the film may have had is killed off, as well.

The only thing that makes this exercise bearable is the presence of Gibson and Goggins. The two veterans do all they can to bring a sense of flair to the story, but the chips are stacked against them.

Whatever else can be said about Gibson, his screen presence is undeniable, and he puts it to good use. And the casting of Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Mrs. Claus is inspired.

Goggins doesn’t fare as well, but it’s not for lack of trying. There simply isn’t enough for him to work with, and once his character’s beef with St. Nick is revealed, it proves to be as thin as tissue paper.

The angle that the government subsidizes Claus’ operation to keep the economy humming is inspired, as are scenes where hundreds of elves are working on a secret Army project, the head general envious of their unwavering commitment and work ethic. But these are too few and far between, the Nelms more comfortable with blowing things up than witty social commentary.

In the end, “Fatman” proves to be just a bloody humbug.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter @ckoplinski. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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