Review: ‘Hot Seat’ (2022), starring Kevin Dillon and Mel Gibson

July 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mel Gibson and Kevin Dillon in “Hot Seat” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Hot Seat” (2022)

Directed by James Cullen Bressack

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Mexico, the dramatic film “Hot Seat” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An information technology customer service worker is forced by an anonymous caller to do robberies by computer, or else a bomb strapped underneath his office chair will be detonated. 

Culture Audience: “Hot Seat” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Kevin Dillon and Mel Gibson, as well as to anyone who likes watching idiotic and tacky thrillers.

Mel Gibson, Eddie Steeples and Shannen Doherty in “Hot Seat” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The disastrously awful “Hot Seat” is about a computer hacker trapped in a chair that’s rigged with a bomb. Viewers of “Hot Seat” will feel like they’re trapped watching another kind of bomb: this atrocious movie. “Hot Seat” is so egregiously terrible, it seems almost like a parody of bad movies, until you see that everyone involved in making this putrid pile of filmmaking is taking it way too seriously.

Directed by James Cullen Bressack, “Hot Seat” is just scene after scene of idiotic dialogue, cringeworthy acting and sloppy filmmaking. A movie with this type of plot should be suspenseful, but “Hot Seat” just drags with no suspense and a lot of time-wasting nonsense to fill up the scenes. Collin Watts and Leon Langford co-wrote the abysmal “Hot Seat” screenplay, which obliterates credibility just like the bomb that threatens to obliterate the movie’s protagonist.

“Hot Seat” takes place in an unnamed city in New Mexico, but the movie was actually filmed in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The beginning of the movie shows an unidentified person using a remote-controlled device to set off a bomb that blows up a car in a place called Neil Park during the daytime. The terrible CGI visual effects in “Hot Seat” look very fake and almost laughable.

A few miles away, an information technology (IT) customer service employee named Orlando Friar (played by Kevin Dillon) is outside his house when he hears the bomb going off. Orlando doesn’t look around to find out the bomb noise’s origin and to see if he might be in imminent danger. If Orlando had looked around, he would’ve seen the cloud of smoke from the bomb. It’s one of many indications in “Hot Seat” that Orlando might be tech-smart, but he’s stupid when it comes to having common sense.

When Orlando goes in his house, he asks his wife Kim Friar (played by Lydia Hull): “Did you hear that? It sounded like a bomb went off.” Kim replies sarcastically, “No, but I heard police sirens, and I thought maybe they were coming for you.” In this bomb-themed story, Orlando will soon find out that Kim is about to blow up their marriage.

On this particular day, Orlando and Kim’s teenage daughter Zoey Friar (played by Anna Harr) will be celebrating her birthday with a party at the family home. Kim has been excitedly preparing for this party. Zoey’s age isn’t stated in the movie, but she looks like she’s about 16 years old. Orlando tells Kim that he’ll have to miss the party because he unexpectedly has to work that day at his office job, to fill in for an employee who called in sick.

Apparently, Orlando has made work a bigger priority than his family too many times for Kim to take. An angry Kim hands Orlando divorce papers and tells him that she was going to wait until after the party to give him the divorce papers, but she says that Orlando has now given her no choice. As far as Kim is concerned, their marriage is over.

Orlando whines, “How long are you going to keep punishing me?” Kim replies, “We have tried everything. I just can’t.” Orlando and Kim agree not to tell Zoey about the divorce until after Zoey’s birthday party. Feeling rejected and somewhat in shock, Orlando goes to his office job. It’s at a company called We Save You I.T., which gives customer service support for people with computer-related technical problems.

The movie implies that Orlando is going into the office on a weekend, because he and another co-worker are the only ones in the office, which is furnished like a typical non-descript call center. The co-worker’s name is Enzo (played by Michael Welch), and he’s a talkative employee who’s about 20 to 25 years younger than Orlando. At the office, Enzo and Orlando watch a TV news report about the bomb going off in Neil Park. Enzo gives the impression that his work shift has ended, so he eventually leaves.

The first customer call that viewers see Orlando getting is from an elderly woman who wants help because she says her “computer died.” Based on what this customer says, Orlando quickly determines that she is completely computer illiterate and wouldn’t be able to handle a troubleshooting walk-through with him. Instead, Orlando takes a shortcut and hacks into the customer’s computer to fix the problem.

Orlando and Zoey then do a video chat, where she’s disappointed but not surprised that he decided to go to work instead of her birthday party. During this video chat, Orlando sees an illustration of a red skull mysteriously appear and flicker on his computer screen. And then, Orlando gets some cryptic text messages on his phone: “Did you kiss your daughter goodbye?” and “Bad news, red knight.”

Meanwhile, two police officers are playing chess at police headquarters while they exchange mild insults with each other. Wallace Reed (played by Mel Gibson) is a stereotypical middle-aged grizzled cop who thinks he’s better and smarter than his younger colleague Jackson (played by Eddie Steeples), who thinks that Wallace is old and out-of-touch. It’s an older cop/younger cop cliché that has been overused in too many movies. In other words, “Hot Seat” will have a very predictable subplot of two clashing cop partners who have to find a way to work together to solve a case.

Wallace and Jackson are called to the scene of the bombing in Neil Park. They find out that a man who was near the bomb when it went off has died. Wallace states the obvious out loud: “I don’t think this was a chance victim.” Get used to more of this mind-numbing dialogue. “Hot Seat” is full of it.

Back at Orlando’s office, the person who has been contacting him has now begun calling him and has hacked into a computer screen that’s directly across from Orlando’s desk. The voice is disguised, but it’s obviously a man’s voice. And it’s how Orlando finds out that there’s a bomb strapped underneath his chair and that the caller can see Orlando’s every move.

What does this caller want? He knows that Orlando has extensive computer hacking experience and wants Orlando to hack into a bank and transfer $2 million into Orlando’s bank account. But that’s not all. The caller also wants Orlando to hack the computer system of a company called Templer Bonds, whose specialty is security boxes for wealthy people to store valuables worth millions. Orlando is ordered to get the access codes for Templer Bonds accounts.

The caller threatens Orlando by saying that if Orlando tries to escape or call for help, the caller will set off the chair bomb and then kill Zoey. The caller knows so much about Orlando, he shows on the nearby computer screen that he has a copy of the divorce papers that Kim gave Orlando earlier that day. The caller then makes a snide comment that it’s too bad that Orlando’s personal life is already a mess while Orlando is being held hostage.

As Orlando is trapped at his desk, he gets an unexpected visitor: A woman named Ava Adamson (played by Kate Katzman) suddenly shows up in the office and says she’s looking for Enzo. According to Kate, Enzo invited her to visit him at the office. Orlando says that Enzo isn’t there. And it should come as no surprise that Ava becomes a hostage victim too.

Where is this movie going? Who is the mystery caller? And will anyone care when Orlando reacts like a dimwit? For example, after he’s been told to commit these crimes under duress, Orlando tells the caller he’ll do it under one condition: “Okay, one thing: I need my music.” The caller replies, “As long it’s not country.” It’s just a pathetic attempt for “Hot Seat” to have some comedy.

Orlando soon finds out that the $2 million transfer to his bank account was to frame Orlando and make it look he’s the bomber and acting on his own. And so, when the police department gets involved, they think Orlando is the chief culprit. The caller says that if Orlando doesn’t publicly take the blame for the Neil Park bombing, the bomb under Orlando’s chair will go off, and the caller will follow through on his threat to kill Zoey.

The mystery caller forces Orlando to give a false confession on a live video that is seen by law enforcement, the media and the general public. Orlando is told to act like he’s an angry extremist who hates corporations and rich people. Eventually, more of Orlando’s background is revealed to show why the caller knows so much about Orlando.

Meanwhile, the caller gives some clues to Orlando about the caller’s background. The caller says he grew up on a farm, where he made his first bombs out of fertilizer, and his father was a violent alcoholic. Even with these clues, Orlando can’t do much with this information because every move he makes is being watched.

Police chief Pam Connelly (played by Shannen Doherty) immediately thinks that Orlando is the guilty party and needs to be taken down. Wallace isn’t so sure and wants to explore the theory that Orlando is being forced to commit these crimes. Kim insists that Orlando isn’t capable of being a murderer and a thief. You can almost do a countdown to the scene where Kim and Zoey aren’t just helpless bystanders but want to get involved in helping Orlando.

Wallace, Jackson and another cop named Sergeant Tobias (played by Sam Asghari) are ordered to solve the case. It just leads to useless scenes of cops yelling and guns being pulled when the cops surround the office building where Orlando is trapped. No one in the movie’s cast does a very good job in portraying these hollow characters. Ava is depicted as a ditzy blonde, with “Hot Seat” director Bressack making sure that there are leering camera angles that showcase her breasts.

Meanwhile, the “Hot Seat” filmmakers didn’t think about how illogical it is for the criminal caller to get the police to target Orlando before Orlando could complete the task of getting the access codes. How dumb does this villain have to be to get the hostage possibly arrested before the hostage does what the villain wants the hostage to do? “Hot Seat” is nothing but illogical garbage piled on top of more illogical garbage. You know a movie like “Hot Seat” is unwatchable when even the action scenes look badly staged and will induce boredom.

Lionsgate released “Hot Seat” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 1, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on August 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Father Stu,’ starring Mark Wahlberg

April 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mark Wahlberg in “Father Stu” (Photo by Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures)

“Father Stu”

Directed by Rosalind Ross

Culture Representation: Taking place from the mid-1990s to late 2000s in Los Angeles and Helena, Montana, the dramatic film “Father Stu” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A washed-up amateur boxer, who has a history of committing violence and other crimes, moves from Montana to Los Angeles to become an actor, but he ends up becoming a priest. 

Culture Audience: “Father Stu” will appeal primarily to fans of star Mark Wahlberg and people who like formulaic dramas about toxic masculinity where men are excused and forgiven for things that women would not be allowed to get away with as easily.

Jacki Weaver, Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson in “Father Stu” (Photo by Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures)

Boring and predictable, “Father Stu” is yet another film in Mark Wahlberg’s long list of one-note movies where he plays a foul-mouthed jerk who’s promoted as heroic. It’s another “toxic male who needs to be redeemed” story that does nothing new or clever. This tired retread has the word “flop” written all over it.

“Father Stu” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Rosalind Ross, who pollutes this movie with a lot of corny dialogue and cringeworthy scenarios. “Father Stu” is based on a true story, but so much of this biographical film looks phony because of the contrived ways that the characters speak and act. And the movie looks like it was made by people who’ve seen too many outdated TV-movie dramas and decided to rehash and dump the same formulas into this dreadful dud.

In “Father Stu,” Wahlberg (who is one of the movie’s producers) plays Stuart “Stu” Long, an aggressively obnoxious loser who decides to commit to Catholicism and becomes a priest after experiencing a health crisis. The movie takes place from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, when the real Long was in his early 30s to mid-40s, although Wahlberg never looks convincing as someone in his 30s.

“Father Stu” starts off in Stu’s hometown of Helena, Montana, where he is an amateur boxer who’s never made it into the big leagues. While in his early 30s, Stu is seen in a doctor’s appointment with his devoted and sometimes sarcastic mother Kathleen Long (played by Jacki Weaver), when they get some bad news: The doctor says that Stu’s boxing injuries are life-threatening, and he will die if he doesn’t quit boxing.

Stu takes his anger out on his mother, by berating her for having him at this doctor’s appointment where Stu got news that he didn’t want to hear. When she tactfully tells Stu that she’s heard about an oil rig job that’s hiring, Stu snaps at her: “I ain’t doing no blue-collar bullshit!” Meanwhile, Stu (who is a bachelor with no children) hasn’t really figured out what he’s going to do to earn an income.

Even though “Father Stu” is written and directed by a woman, this stale excuse for a movie repeats all the clichés of misogynistic movies where women with significant speaking roles only exist as a banal “mother” or “love interest,” rarely with fully formed personalities. In these sexist movies, all of the action revolves around men, and the women are just there to react to whatever the men do. And that’s exactly what happens in “Father Stu.”

Soon after his boxing career ends, Stu decides he wants to move to Los Angeles and become an actor. (In real life, Stuart Long moved to Los Angeles in 1987, when he was 24.) Before Stu moves to L.A., he visits the grave of his younger brother Stephen Long, who died in 1971, at the age of 5 years old. (Stephen’s death is eventually talked about in more details.) It’s at this point, in this movie’s graveyard scene, that you know the filmmakers are going to use this tragic death as a way to garner sympathy for Stu and all the offensive and selfish things that he does.

While a drunken Stu is at the grave, he hallucinates seeing himself as a boy of about 9 or 10 years old (played by Tenz McCall), in a hokey moment that’s supposed to make viewers literally see Stu’s inner child. The adult Stu gets angry and punches a nearby statue of Jesus Christ. And just at that moment, a police car drives up. Viewers don’t see what happened between Stu and any cop on the scene, but it’s shown later that Stu was arrested for resisting arrest. The movie goes out of its way to erase or gloss over any crimes that he commits.

Instead, Stu is presented as someone who goes through life insulting others and who doesn’t hesitate to bully people to get what he wants. The movie tries to excuse his awfulness by showing that Stu comes from an emotionally damaged family: Stu’s younger brother died tragically, and Stu’s parents are estranged from each other. Stu is infuriated at his father for being what Stu calls a “deadbeat dad.” Stu is a lot more like his father than Stu would care to admit.

Stu’s father William “Bill” Long (played by Mel Gibson) is a truck driver, who passed on a lot of his bad personality traits to Stu. They are both crude, ill-tempered and quick to instigate fights where they curse at people or get violent. (And yes, you can do a countdown to the inevitable scene where Stu gets in a bar fight.) Stu’s mother Kathleen has gotten fed up with Bill, so they are no longer living together.

As an example of how “Father Stu” rips off familiar territory, Gibson and Wahlberg did another version of this “rude father and son” schtick in the 2017 annoying comedy film “Daddy’s Home 2.” Gibson is also probably in “Father Stu” because of his romantic relationship with “Father Stu” writer/director Ross. The couple began dating in 2014.

One thing that Stu’s parents both agree on is that Stu’s goal of becoming a professional actor is a foolish and unlikely dream. And sure enough, when Stu moves to L.A. and makes the rounds at talent agencies, he’s rejected. Viewers don’t see a lot of these rejections, but Stu mentions it in a scene where a lecherous male agent sexually propositions Stu when the two of them are alone together in the agent’s office. An angry Stu then roughs up this sexual predator and breaks a video camera in the office before slamming the door when he leaves.

Stu can’t get work as an actor, so he takes a job working behind the meat counter at a grocery store. In his desperate attempts to break into showbiz and make connections, Stu has an irritating and unprofessional habit of asking customers while he’s working if they’re in the entertainment business. It’s at this grocery store where he meets Carmen (played by Teresa Ruiz), a devoutly religious Catholic who becomes Stu’s love interest before he becomes a priest. It’s infatuation at first sight for Stu, who tries to flirt with Carmen when they first meet, but she’s not impressed.

“I didn’t catch your name,” Stu tells Carmen before she walks away. “You’re not much of a fisherman,” Carmen says coyly, as if she thinks it’s hilarious to make a reference to the phrase “fisherman’s catch.” This is the type of dumb dialogue in “Father Stu” that will have audiences rolling their eyes at how cornball this movie is.

Carmen left behind a church flyer with the store manager, so that’s how Stu finds out where Carmen goes to church. Soon enough, Stu shows up at the church like a stalker, and that’s how he discovers that Carmen is a Sunday school teacher at this Catholic church. At this point in Stu’s life, he’s a lapsed Catholic. Guess who’s going to be a regular attendee of this church? Guess who’s now going to want to look like a devoted Catholic? It’s Stu’s way of trying to charm Carmen into dating him.

Stu tells people that Carmen is “the love of his life” and his “future wife” shortly after meeting her. One of these people is the church’s Father Garcia (played by Carlos Leal), who is skeptical about Stu’s interest in Catholicism, but nevertheless has to listen to Stu’s rambling, self-indulgent diatribes when Stu does confessionals with Father Garcia. These confession scenes are very tiresome and have all the emotional resonance of air being let out of a windbag.

Carmen slowly falls for Stu, but then he gets into a horrific motorcycle accident where he is struck by a car and nearly dies. During his recovery, Stu and Carmen begin a sexual relationship, and she seriously starts to think that they will get married. But not so fast, Carmen. Stu has a religious epiphany and tells Carmen that he wants to become a priest during a conversation that she thought would be a marriage proposal to her. None of this is spoiler information, of course, because anyone who’s aware of this movie’s title should know what Stu’s vocation ends up being.

Carmen doesn’t take the news well at all. “You’re setting yourself up for failure,” Carmen tells Stu. She also calls Stu “delusional,” as she tearfully ends this conversation. But Carmen’s feelings are sidelined because the movie is on a mission to show the dubious redemption of Stu, as he goes from being a rough-talking hooligan to a rough-talking priest.

Stu’s father Bill also thinks Stu’s decision to become a priest is some kind of pathetic joke, just like the line that Bill delivers when he hears the news. Bill reacts to the news of Stu wanting to join the Roman Catholic priesthood by saying: “It’s like Hitler asking to join the ADL [Anti-Defamation League].” Considering that Gibson nearly ruined his career and permanently tarnished his reputation with his anti-Semitic rant during his 2006 arrest for drunk driving, it’s in very bad taste to have him tell a Hitler “joke” in a movie.

“Father Stu” then has numerous trite scenes where Stu is shown as a seminary “misfit” who’s determined to prove his naysayers wrong. Among those who don’t think that Stu has what it takes to become a priest is an uptight and pious seminary student (played by Cody Fern), who is the opposite of Stu in almost every way. Predictably, these two are forced to share the same sleeping quarters when they’re assigned to be roommates in their seminary.

Stu also shows that he’s racist against black people, when he expresses some bigoted points of view while interacting with an African American seminary student named Ham (played by Aaron Moten), who is a lot more patient with Stu than Stu deserves. Ham is essentially one of many characters who let Stu walk all over them and manipulate them. When Stu first meets Ham, he ridicules Ham for his name. Stu is so ignorant, he thinks the name Ham is some kind of “ethnic” thing.

Later, when Stu gets Ham to play basketball with him in their free time, Stu mocks Ham for not being as good at basketball as Stu expected. Stu literally says in the movie that he thinks Ham should be better at basketball because Ham is black. The scene is played for laughs, but it’s a putrid, tone-deaf scene where Stu never gets called out for his racism.

In addition to having a roommate that he despises, Stu also contends with a supervising teacher named Monsignor Kelly (played by Malcolm McDowell), who is a stereotypical stern priest who wants everyone to be as strictly religious as he is. Not surprisingly, Monsignor Kelly doubts that Stu is really serious about becoming a priest, so the two men inevitably clash with each other.

Time and time again, “Father Stu” spins Stu’s boorishness as being a freewheeling rogue who’s an underdog and underestimated by people around him. However, it just exposes the sexism in many aspects of society. After all, women who are this loathsome and violent probably wouldn’t be allowed to become Catholic nuns. And if they did, they certainly don’t get movies made about them.

“Father Stu” is essentially a vanity showcase for Wahlberg to play the same type of character that he’s been playing for years: cranky, argumentative and quick to step on people to get what he wants. Everyone else in “Father Stu” is just a two-dimensional sidekick in this tedious parade of enabling toxic masculinity, where the man who’s supposed to be redeemed gets many chances to turn his life around, while audiences are supposed to be cheering for him every step of the way. Needless to say, nothing about this movie is award-worthy, and lot of it is just a chore to watch.

Of course, the redemption of Stu also comes with a life-threatening disease: inclusion body myositis, so that audiences can feel even more sympathy for him. Unfortunately, in “Father Stu,” this disease is used as just another plot device to prop up Stu’s redemption arc. “Father Stu” is essentially a half-baked project that looks like a second-rate TV-movie. It certainly isn’t worth watching for the price of a movie ticket.

Columbia Pictures will release “Father Stu” in U.S. cinemas on April 13, 2022.

UPDATE: A new, PG-13 version of “Father Stu” will be released under the title “Father Stu: Reborn” in U.S. cinemas on December 9, 2022. The original version of “Father Stu” is rated R.

Review: ‘Fatman,’ starring Mel Gibson and Walton Goggins

December 9, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mel Gibson in “Fatman” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Fatman”

Directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms

Culture Representation: Taking place in Alaska and other parts of the United States, the dark comedy film “Fatman” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people) representing the middle-class, working-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After a 12-year-old bratty rich kid gets a lump of coal for Christmas, he hires a hit man to murder Santa Claus, who is a grouch dealing with his own personal issues.

Culture Audience: “Fatman” will appeal primarily to people who like movies that put a dark comedic twist on Christmas folklore, but the movie’s humor and action fall flat in too many scenes.

Walton Goggins in “Fatman” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Fatman” is a Christmas-themed film that tries to be inventive and funny, but just ends up being not inventive enough and not funny enough to be considered a great movie. The “Fatman” plot often wanders and gets very dull. It’s as if the filmmakers want this movie to be a cult classic like 2003’s “Bad Santa” (starring Billy Bob Thornton as the title character), but they couldn’t come up with enough clever ideas to make it happen.

Written and directed by brothers Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms, “Fatman” is essentially one in a long list of Mel Gibson movies where he plays a grouch who can get violent if anyone tries to mess with him. In “Fatman,” Gibson portrays Chris Cringle, also known as Santa Claus, a crusty curmudgeon who’s experiencing a financial crisis. Because the world has become more cynical, there are less people in the world who believe in Santa Claus. And so, the demand for his services has plummeted.

In this particular Christmas season that takes place in “Fatman,” Chris and his loyal and loving British wife Ruth Cringle (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) have to decide whether or not to take a government subsidy to help offset the couple’s expenses, in order to keep the Cringles’ elf-populated factory in business. (Instead of the North Pole, the Cringles live in North Peak, Alaska.) The subsidy is to pay for the elves to make control panels for FJ63 fighter jets, and Chris is very reluctant to have his factory used for this type of military work. The subsidy also isn’t very appealing to Chris because it’s only half of what he and Ruth need to get them out of their financial hole.

This dilemma is a big part of the “Fatman” plot, but it takes a while to get to that point, because so much of the story is unfocused and wastes time during the first third of the movie. Expect to see a lot of scenes with Chris just walking around being stubborn and miserable. He’s the type of “anti-hero” Santa Claus who doesn’t wear the traditional red and white suit and hat, but instead looks more like a scruffy trucker in flannel shirts, jeans and ski caps.

Although he appears to be self-absorbed and short-tempered, Chris has a “psychic” side to him, because he has the ability to know everything about people’s lives without anyone telling him. And so, when he encounters people he’s never met before, Chris often likes to catch them off guard by telling them personal details about their lives that he would have no reason to know unless he had these “psychic” abilities. He also has the ability to self-heal quickly from physical wounds, which is an obvious sign that he’s not a “regular” human being.

As an example of his “psychic” abilities, one day Chris goes inside a bar where his platonic female friend Sandy (played by Susanne Sutchy) works as a bartender. Chris sees a trucker named Mike (played by John Tokatlidis) sexually flirting with Sandy, who expresses interest in meeting up with Mike later for a tryst. While Sandy goes in another part of the bar where she can’t see Chris, he approaches Mike, even though they’ve never met before, and tells him, “Hello, Mike, I hope Nicole and the kids are doing well.”

Mike is startled and asks Chris if they know each other. Chris won’t say, but he essentially shames Mike by informing him that he knows that Mike is married with kids and shouldn’t be trying to hook up with Sandy, who doesn’t know that Mike is married. Mike is so unnerved by how this stranger knows so much about him that he quickly leaves the bar.

When Sandy comes back to where Mike was sitting, she has no idea why Mike left, but she makes a comment about how something keeps going wrong with her “dates” whenever Chris is around. It’s an example of the clunky humor in the story. The “Fatman” filmmakers seem to want this Santa Claus to be a “badass” Santa, by making this movie geared to adults (there’s foul language and bloody violence), but there are many scenes in “Fatman” where this Santa Claus’ bark is a lot worse than his actual bite when it comes to confronting or scaring people.

On the one hand, “Fatman” wants to be a dark and edgy comedy. On the other hand, there’s a lot of corny and uninteresting dialogue in the film. For example, there’s a scene where Chris and Ruth are discussing the government’s offer to pay the subsidy.

Chris says, “We are a business. And don’t kid yourself, Ruth. Altruism is not a deductible on their bottom line.” Ruth replies, “Don’t put it all on them. You’ve changed too.”

Chris continues, “You might be right. Maybe I’m just like them.” In response, Ruth says in an encouraging tone of voice, “You’ve still got it.” Chris says in a world-weary tone, “All I have is a loathing for a world that’s forgotten.”

And why is this movie called “Fatman,” even though this Santa Claus isn’t fat? Because that’s the derogatory name given to Chris by the people in the story who want him dead. One of those people is the eccentric and off-kilter assassin (played by Walton Goggins) who’s hired to murder Chris. The assassin is given the name Skinny Man in the movie’s credits (although no one actually calls him Skinny Man in the movie), and his real name is revealed toward the end of the film.

Skinny Man is one of those assassins who’s been seen in many types of dark comedies before: He’s cold as ice but he has unexpected quirks that show he has a soft spot for certain things. John Travolta’s Vincent Vega character from the 1994 classic film “Pulp Fiction” was an obvious influence for the Skinny Man character, who isn’t nearly as amusing or fun to watch as Vincent Vega.

One of the quirks that Skinny Man has is that when he drives his car, he likes to keep his pet mouse in the passenger seat. He will go to certain lengths to make sure that the mouse is comfortable. He also has a fixation on items that have a label that shows that it was made in Santa’s workshop. It’s explained later in the movie why Skinny Man is so attracted to these items.

Skinny Man was hired to kill Santa Claus by a sociopathic wealthy kid named Billy Wenan (played by Chance Hurstfield), who is 12 years old and lives in an unnamed part of the U.S. that isn’t Alaska. Billy is supposed to come across as a “poor little rich boy” because his workaholic single father is rarely at home and he neglects Billy. (Billy’s father is never seen in the movie. Billy’s mother is not seen or mentioned.) Even though Billy is essentially a loner who’s mostly ignored by his father, Billy is really just an entitled and vindictive brat who goes to extreme lengths to get what he wants.

Billy has a collection of Best of Show blue ribbons that he won in science fairs. He is so proud of these ribbons that he shows them off on the lapels of his suit blazers that he likes to wear, even around the house. Billy’s ailing grandmother Ann Marie (played by Deborah Grover) is his main caretaker. However, because of her physical condition (she has an oxygen tube and often uses a wheelchair), Anne Marie can’t keep track of all that Billy does, and she basically lets him do whatever he wants. Ann Marie also mistakenly thinks that Billy is a good and obedient child.

How cruel is Billy? When he comes in second place at a recent science fair, he publicly congratulates the winner—a fellow classmate named Christine Crawford (played by Ellison Grier Butler)—but privately, he plots his revenge. Billy ends up hiring Skinny Man to kidnap Christine, who is held captive and ordered by Billy to give up her winner’s title for the science fair. He concocts a plan for Christine to lie to the science fair authorities by making a false confession that she cheated in her winning science fair project. Billy figures that the authorities will then take the winner’s title away from Christine, and then Billy will be named the winner by default.

On Christmas Day, Billy’s father isn’t at home because he’s working somewhere. Billy is essentially alone when he unwraps his presents. And he finds that because Santa Claus knows that Billy has been “naughty,” Billy has received nothing but a lump of coal from Santa Claus. Billy is so angry that he goes outside in the snow and yells to the sky, “You just messed up big time, Fatman!”

When Billy hires Skinny Man to murder Santa Claus, they both use the name Fatman to describe Santa Claus. Billy steals some of his grandmother’s checks and forges her signature in order to pay the assassin. It’s very stupid to leave this kind of easily traced paper trail for an assassin payment—one of many unnecessary plot holes in this sloppily written movie. Ever hear about paying in cash? And the person whose checks were stolen can eventually find out about the stolen money through bank records.

“Fatman” isn’t even that much of an action movie, since the only real showdown happens in the last 20 minutes of the film. And even that confrontation is predictable and filmed in a very “by the numbers” formulaic way. And really, when the movie shows way in advance that Santa Claus has a supernatural ability to heal quickly from physical wounds, there’s no suspense in what will happen if he gets shot or injured in vital organs.

Goggins seems to be having some fun with his mysterious assassin character, but the rest of the cast members appear to be just going through the motions. There are supporting characters in the movie that come and go with no real purpose or have wasted potential, and the main characters are often one-note and predictable. For example, a U.S. military official named Captain Jacobs (played by Robert Bockstael) makes frequent visits to the Cringle home and factory. This character, which could have been hilarious or memorable, is as bland as bland can be.

At this point, Gibson has played so many gruff characters in movies, he can do it in his sleep. “Fatman” might offer some mild and occasional laughs to people with low expectations. Just like the bad gift that Billy gets in “Fatman,” the movie is like a Christmas present that looks enticing on the outside, but once you unwrap it, you find out it’s really just a disappointing and useless piece of coal.

Saban Films released “Fatman” in select U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020, and on digital and VOD on November 24, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “Fatman” on Blu-ray and DVD on January 26, 2021.

Review: ‘Force of Nature’ (2020), starring Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson, David Zayas and Stephanie Cayo

July 1, 2020

Mel Gibson, Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth and Stephanie Cayo in “Force of Nature” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Force of Nature” (2020) 

Directed by Michael Polish

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the action flick “Force of Nature” has a racially diverse cast (white people, Latinos and one African American) portraying middle-class citizens and criminals.

Culture Clash: During a hurricane, two police officers and four other people in an apartment building try to fight off a gang of ruthless thieves who’ve invaded the mostly evacuated building to steal a safe full of valuables worth $55 million.

Culture Audience: “Force of Nature” will appeal primarily to people who like movies with a lot of gun violence but very little substance.

Emile Hirsch and William Catlett in “Force of Nature” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Let’s say you’re in a gang of thieves who want to pull off the perfect heist in a building when there won’t be hardly anyone in the building. When do you want to commit this crime? During a hurricane, of course. That’s the premise behind the laughably bad action movie “Force of Nature,” whose stupidity is as relentless as the fake torrential rain that’s supposed to pass for a Category 5 hurricane in this mess of a story.

Directed by Michael Polish and written by Cory Miller, “Force of Nature” can’t even get basic elements right when it comes to portraying a hurricane in the movie. In “Force of Nature,” the Category 5 hurricane just looks like a heavy rain storm on the Category 2 level, since the wind gusts in the outside fight scenes are very mild compared to what a real Category 5 hurricane looks like.

But people who make these kinds of mindless movies aren’t really too concerned about realism or having a believable story. Their main concern is to stage as much violence and stunt shots to fill up the story with as much action as possible and distract from the flimsy plot. However, even the action scenes in “Force of Nature” are unimaginative and very repetitive.

In “Force of Nature” (which takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico), viewers are introduced to the main protagonist: A police officer whose last name is Cardillo (his first name is never mentioned; he’s portrayed by Emile Hirsh), who is shown in the beginning of the film by himself in a bathtub with a gun pointed in his mouth. Cardillo doesn’t go through with shooting himself, and when he gets dressed, viewers see that he’s a police officer. Why is he suicidal? It’s revealed later in the movie.

Now that we know that this cop is suicidal, you have to wonder if it’s deliberate or a coincidence that this “gun in mouth” scene is similar to the “gun in mouth” scene in 1987’s “Lethal Weapon,” which had Mel Gibson also portraying a suicidal cop. It’s worth mentioning this comparison, since Gibson plays an angry retired cop in “Force of Nature.” We’ll get to that in a moment.

When Cardillo goes to work, he’s less than thrilled to find out that he’s supposed to train a new partner that day: Jess Peña (played by Stephanie Cayo), who has a fairly upbeat personality, but is no pushover when a cranky Cardillo makes it obvious that he doesn’t want to work with her.

Puerto Rico is about to go on lockdown because of an impending Category 5 hurricane, so Jess has been assigned to work with Cardillo to train on how to evacuate residents. They’ve been called to assist in an apartment building where two of the residents stubbornly refuse to evacuate.

Meanwhile, a crime boss named John, nicknamed John the Baptist (played by David Zayas), and one of his henchmen have taken an elderly lady named Mrs. Gradisher (played by Leslee Emmett) to a bank, where they force her by gunpoint to open a safe-deposit box in a private room. There’s cash in the box (which the thugs take), but what they’re really more interested in is a painting in the box.

As they start to leave the bank, John coldly executes the lady in the head in the bank lobby. Several horrified people in the bank have witnessed the shooting. Therefore, not only are these criminals ruthless, they also don’t care about being seen committing murder without any disguises, in full view of witnesses and security cameras.

Meanwhile, at a grocery store, a man named Jason Griffin (played by William Catlett) has stocked up on a cartload of meat. He’s taken so much meat that there’s no more left for other customers. Griffin gets into a dispute with another man who asks Jason for one packet of meat, but Griffin refuses.

The angry customer than gets a store manager and falsely claims that Griffin stole a package of meat right out of the hands of the other customer’s son. Even though Griffin denies it, the manager sides with the other customer and asks Griffin to leave the store. (There are some racial undertones to this scene, since Griffin is African American and the other customer is not.)

Before he leaves, Griffin lunges at the other customer in anger. And the next thing you know, the police are called. Guess who are the cops who show up to respond to this incident? Cardillo and Jess, of course.

The customer who started the dispute declines to press charges on Griffin, who is released from police custody. When Cardillo asks Griffin why he was trying to buy all that meat, Griffin explains that he wanted to feed his cat Janet before the hurricane arrived.

And it just so happens that Griffin lives in the same apartment building where Cardillo and Jess were headed to assist in an evacuation. Cardillo and Jess agree to let Griffin back into this apartment to feed his cat, on the condition that Griffin immediately evacuate after the cat is fed.

It’s easy to figure out, based on the type of meat and the large quantities that Griffin was going to buy, that he does not have a regular domestic cat. But apparently, these two cops are too dumb to notice these clues, and they’re shocked when they find out what type of cat Griffin has. This animal is the reason for a subplot to the movie that won’t be revealed in this review.

Meanwhile, the two residents of the building who refuse to evacuate are retired cop Ray (played by Gibson) and another retirement-age man named Paul Bergkamp (played by Jorge Luis Ramos), who is originally from Germany. Bergkamp has no one else in his apartment, but Ray’s daughter Troy (played by Kate Bosworth, who’s married in real life to “Force of Nature” director Polish) is in the apartment with Ray, because she’s been unsuccessfully trying get him to evacuate.

Troy is a doctor (her medical skills come in handy later in the story), but she tells Jess, “He doesn’t exactly respond to female authority,” which is why Ray won’t listen to her. (We might never know if Gibson’s own reputation for making sexist comments had anything to do with why he got cast in this role.)

At any rate, Ray is an ill-tempered curmudgeon who immediately says when the cops arrive to evacuate him: “The current PD [police department] is full of pussies who care more about liberties and politics. I’m staying here.”

The only other known person at the apartment building is the superintendent, who is outside boarding up and securing windows. Not long after Cardillo and Jess have the displeasure of meeting Ray, Cardillo witnesses the superintendent getting gunned down by John and his small gang of thugs. Why are these criminals at this apartment? To get to a safe that has $55 million worth of valuables.

The rest of the movie’s action is a showdown between the bad guys and the people at the apartment. And just to make it harder for anyone to escape, the apartment elevator just happens to be not working. And did we mention that Ray has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal?

Gibson seems to be very self-aware of his controversial reputation, because he plays Ray to the hilt as an anti-hero, so there’s almost an element of camp to his acting. The rest of the cast members play it straight in this very formulaic, cheaply made action flick. The visual effects are tacky, and the director does a sloppy job with the action sequences, where it’s obvious to see who the stunt doubles are.

Much of the dialogue in “Force of Nature” is also very cringeworthy. At one point in the movie, Jess says, “Let’s go. Rock me like hurricane.” “Force of Nature” is supposed to take place during a hurricane, but the movie itself is another kind of disaster.

Lionsgate released “Force of Nature” on digital and VOD on June 30, 2020.

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