Mel Gibson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Walton Goggins, Chance Hurstfield
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…isn’t as funny or edgy as it needs to be.
This dark, adult-skewed Christmas comedy is something of a reframing of the story of a modern Father Christmas, which drops the costumes and Will Ferrell Elf style antics in favour of a fairly grim depiction of ‘Santa Claus Inc.’ as a struggling business going under, after years of cynicism and disbelief from its clientele.
Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) is a grizzled, world-weary Santa who likes a drink and is at times, when push comes to shove, handy with a gun. His wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is his closest confidante and cheerleader, though even she raises an eyebrow when Cringle is forced to pivot his business to government military contracts in order to stay afloat. The Christmas spirit starts to wane, and Santa’s problems start to mount up.
When spoilt rich kid Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a 12 year old (who’s seemingly a Bond villain in the making) gets a lump of coal in his stocking on Christmas morning, he angrily dispatches a ruthless hired goon known only as the ‘Skinny Man’ (played by the always enjoyable Walton Goggins) to kill old Saint Nick and whoever else gets in the way.
Tonally, it seems to be striving for the comedy hijinks of Bad Santa, but the script just isn’t up to the task. It just isn’t as funny or edgy as it needs to be. Also, Mel Gibson could have played a grim, down on his luck Santa in his A-lister heyday and audiences would’ve eaten it up. These days, Gibson just doesn’t have the same currency with audiences. He’s a gifted filmmaker and storyteller, but his relegation to persona non grata status in Hollywood has seen him languish in movie jail for too long now.
That said, Walton Goggins provides some enjoyment, he’s as tonally on-point as you’d expect, much like his other collaborations with this film’s producers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride (The Righteous Gemstones, Vice Principals). In fact, McBride would’ve probably been a better idea to play the role of Santa, facing off against the murderously louche Goggins. A good example of how this film’s tonal tug-of-war could have been solved in its casting. As it stands, it merely highlights what a great dramatic screen presence Gibson was before his public excoriation and that, in a different time, a turn as Father Christmas would have made for enjoyable fun rather than genre weirdness.