- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2021

Here’s a review of pair of films starring legendary blockbuster actors in not-so-blockbuster roles now available in the Blu-ray format.

Fatman (Paramount Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 100 minutes, $22.98) — Mel Gibson takes on the most important role of his career as beloved Christmas legend Santa forced to battle for his life against an unforgiving assassin in directors Eshom and Ian Nelms’ dark action comedy.

OK, a bit of tongue in my cheek here, and I wish I was making this up, folks, but juicy roles are tough for Mr. Gibson to find these days after his complicated relationship with Hollywood’s elite over the decades.

Fortunately, the uber-violent, comic book-style story — imagine Quentin Tarantino adapting “A Year Without a Santa Clause” — actually works.

It first finds a despondent Chris Cringle bleeding income due to not delivering enough presents because of a preponderance of  “youth making poor decisions.”

He barely survives financially with his cookie-making wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and ends up supplementing his income by allowing his elves to build fighter jet parts for the U.S. military.

Life gets worse after Chris puts rich spoiled brat Billy Wehan (Chance Hurstfield) on his naughty list and gives him a lump of coal.

The brilliant conniving punk hires his favorite seasoned killer (Walton Goggins in fine form), a guy already steamed with Santa for forgetting him, to track down the jolly fat man and take revenge.

It’s hard not to appreciate Mr. Gibson’s take on the legend, played with the utmost seriousness, as he dons a more modern version of the costume (red leather jacket), patches bullet holes from unruly kids on his sleigh, tends to grumpy reindeer and gives a rousing speech to his elven workers.

“Fatman” is not quite “Miracle on 34th Street” nor as prickly as “Bad Santa,” but those looking for a bizarre, oddly traditional holiday movie won’t be disappointed.

I’m also proud to report that no elves were killed in the making of this movie.

Best extras: Viewers looking for the rationale behind this twisted perspective on Santa will appreciate an outstanding optional commentary track with cinematographer Johnny Derango, producer Michelle Lang, Mr. Gibson and the Nelms brothers.

Guided by Eshom, the group offers a lighthearted, pretty much nonstop discussion on the making of the film often breaking down scenes, the actors’ performances, character motivations, the frigid shooting locations and the myth of Santa.

Mr. Gibson occasionally offers insight but adds plenty of humor to the track.

Next, a pair of scenes — the final showdown with the assassin and Chris talking to the elves — are deconstructed by the directors. As the scene plays, viewers can examine the storyboards appearing in the lower right part of the screen while the brothers explain the action.

Finally, four deleted and two extended scenes with an optional commentary track from the directors are included. The best of the bunch is the assassin beating up a Santa dummy.

Honest Thief (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 99 minutes, $34.99) — Liam Neeson returns to his ” innocent guy gets revenge” persona in a textbook action thriller by producer-turned-director Mark Williams.

The actor plays Tom Dolan, a masterful bank robbery nicknamed the “In-and-Out Bandit” who falls in love with storage facility manager Annie (Kate Walsh). He attempts to reform by making a deal with the FBI to return his stolen money if they are willing to give him a reduced sentence.

Of course, corrupt agents John Nivens (Jai Courtney) with innocent partner Ramon Hall (Antony Ramos) are sent and, instead of a deal, they steal his money and set him up for the murder of a fellow agent. Dolan goes on the run to prove his innocence and get some payback.

Mr. Neeson looks a little emaciated and slightly doddering in the loveable role, but his sincerity reigns true and paired with Miss Walsh provides enough chemistry to make this wannabe version of “The Fugitive” with its intermittent thrills worth a look.

Well, OK, I changed my mind. While typing the final part of this review, as the credits rolled, I’m less of a fan.

The pair of plot flaws are too much for me.

First, Tom easily steals Annie from a hospital after she was beat up by the bad guys even though he already told an agent that she was with him. No agents at her room door or any curiosity from hospital guards make this a ridiculous feat.

Next, as Tom hugs Annie for the final time before going into custody with the FBI (to serve an extended prison sentence for sure), he hugs Annie. That’s right, hugs. That’s it.

The girl he loves that he sacrificed everything for gets a hug and not a kiss. That’s a ludicrous emotional response even in the age of COVID-19.

Best extras: Viewers get nothing to further appreciate the production, making the release at best watched once via a digital stream purchase and not recommended to add to a home entertainment disc library.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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