A film review by Craig J. Koban September 22, 2019

THE FANATIC zero stars  

2019, R, 89 mins.

 

John Travolta as Moose  /  Devon Sawa as Hunter Dunbar  /  Ana Golja as Leah  /  James Paxton as Slim  /  Jessica Uberuaga as Brenda  /  Luis Da Silva Jr. as Luis

Directed by Fred Durst  /  Written by Durst and Dave Bekerman

THE FANATIC is a new stalker thriller of embarrassing, almost unfathomable awfulness, made all the inexcusably disposable because it contains one of the most wrongheaded performances by a former multiple Academy Award nominee that I can frankly recall.  

Imagine I AM SAM cross bred with MISERY and THE FAN - except more creatively bankrupt - and you'll have a rough approximation of this inept piece of sensationalistic trash.  And you know what, there's nothing inherently wrong with sensationalistic trash, but only if it hints to the audience with an all knowing wink that it's in on the joke.  THE FANATIC takes itself as serious as a proverbial heart attack, which inadvertently makes it one of the funniest films to sit through of 2019.  

The fact that it's not trying to be a comedy, though, is noteworthy. 

I'm generally not a critic that enjoys kicking actors when they're down, but John Travolta has come an awfully long and misguided way from his glory years in the 1970s and his career rejuvenation of the mid-to-late 1990s.  It's sad, to say the least, to see this once prominent on screen performer fall from grace, whose name alone has become the stuff of retrograde direct-to-video fare and punchlines for many late night talk show host.  He perhaps hit rock bottom with last year's GOTTI, which might have been one of the feeblest made mob dramas ever.  What Travolta does here in THE FANATIC is bizarre and without explanation, and it would be a fair comment to commend him for simply going for it in a vanity free performance of reckless abandon.  Watching THE FANATIC, though, is like watching a celebrity lampoon themselves in an SNL sketch, only they have no idea whatsoever that what they're doing is hilarious.  I'll resist the urge to call Travolta's work in the film as the titular stalker as "liberating", seeing as it's built upon a foundation of outlandish and cringe worthy choices.  I rarely feel pity for actors while I watch them in bad movies, but I felt absolute pity for Travolta while enduring this categorical mess. 

Travolta plays Moose, a severely autistic man (more on that in a bit) that lives right smack dab in the middle of Hollywood and makes ends meet as a street performer and celebrity autograph hunter.  He loves movies, horror most specifically, and his home is a self anointed shrine to his cinematic passions and fandom.  It should be noted that he doesn't peddle his collectibles on eBay for a quick buck, but more or less covets them in ways that wouldn't allow for him to part ways with them.  He's a big fan - some would say...yes...a fanatic - of once prominent action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa), and has been desperately trying to get close to this actor to secure an autograph and reveal to him the full extent of his unbridled hero worship.  Moose's big break comes when Hunter is set to appear at a very public meet and greet autograph session, but just when Moose is about to introduce himself to his hero the star's ex-wife comes and crashes the whole event.   Using rather unwise judgment, Moose decides to confront Hunter in a darkened back alley just after the actor had a family spat, which leaves the latter so annoyed and angered that he threatens bodily harm on Moose. 

 

 

Of course, we wouldn't have a film called THE FANATIC without a total loose cannon stalking his prey, so Moose - via some assistance from his paparazzi photographer pal (Ana Golja) - manages to track down Hunter's home using a combination of star maps and a celeb hunting smart phone app.  Moose wants to make friends with Hunter in the worst way after their past altercation, but when he arrives uninvited multiple times at the actor's home it becomes the straw the broke the camel's back.  Hunter, at his justifiable wit's end, threatens even more physical violence on Moose if he ever dares come near him again, but because the movie obsessive cannot take no for an answer he decides to step up his game to deeply disturbing levels.  And hell, as it does, breaks loose between the pair. 

One of the most patently offensive elements about THE FANATIC was the choice to make Moose autistic all while never once during the course of the film offer up any direct referencing of his condition.  The film was written and directed by Fred Durst (yes, that Fred Durst, lead singer of Limb Bizkit), and he seems less interested in probing the deep and buried psychological layers of this damaged and mentally afflicted man than he is with making him a crude caricature of unstable mental illness driven to unimaginable decision making.  The script here could have made Moose just a lonely, introverted, and disturbed societal reject, but the overt tipping off to his obvious autism is infuriatingly unnecessary.  The condition is used as a cheap plot device to lazily explain the character's every motivation and ill deed.  That shows complete condemnation to real sufferers of autism and an equal level of spite to paying audiences that came to a cinema to watch this drivel. 

This, of course, leads to Travolta's laughably histrionic performance as Moose, who seems equal to the task of out Nicolas Cage-ing his former FACE OFF star when it comes to throwing complete caution - and thespian discipline - to the wind and delivering a character that approaches Tommy Wisseau levels of cringe.  His work here is as manic as its is brainless, highlighting the actor desperately grasping for what he thinks is an Oscar bait role, but contrastingly seems destined for a Razzie Lifetime Achievement honor.  I uncontrollably laughed when Travolta was trying to make Moose serious and recoiled in horror at his efforts to make him idiosyncratically comedic.  The biggest travesty with Moose as a character is that he really has no character.  Over the course of 90 minutes - which felt like 900 minutes - all we really come to know about this guy is that he loves NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and Hunter Dunbar and that he's a bullied autistic man.  

That's it.  That's...it.    

Durst does the film no other favors in his writing of Hunter as well, who comes off initially as understandably disturbed and threatened by his pursuer, but later becomes almost unspeakably vicious in his defense (the film's climax is scandalously violent and gory for no other reason for the purposes of gaudy shock value).  Now, it's an intriguing angle to show the prey here as potentially unstable as well, and Hunter is certainly no innocent victim.  Still, some of his actions in the film never once felt plausible or realistically arrived at.  And when it boils right down to it, THE FANATIC is so pain inducingly empty minded when it comes to thoroughly examining the nature of fanboy obsession and the relationship between celebrity and stalker that I developed migraines just thinking about during my screening.  And you'd think that Durst - as a prominent musician - would have a history and something compelling to say about all of this from personal experience, but THE FANATIC offers up the most shallow sermonizing about its themes.  By the time the film careens towards its aforementioned showdown between Moose and Hunter I gained the impression that Durst and company (a) think that fanboys are nutjobs and (b) their targets are just as deplorably unhinged.  There's simply no one to identify with or relate to on any sympathetic level here.  Very few films despise their characters the way this once does. 

As an exploration on online fan/celebrity culture and the incredibly complicated nuances of such a relationship, THE FANATIC emerges as an insipid minded failure as a psychodrama.  For lack of a better descriptor, it's mean spirited garbage of the lowest order that doesn't even attain a level of so bad, it's good status of enjoyable wretchedness.  On top of making a thriller of little redeeming quality, Durst also comes off as creatively narcissistic with his own choices, especially in one eye rolling and aggravatingly on-the-nose moment when he makes Hunter a die hard Limp Bizkit aficionado (wow).  And Travolta's performance is so shamefully tone deaf that it'll probably become required viewing in acting classes in years to come for how not to immerse yourself in roles.  Maybe the actor is as hopelessly out of touch as his character in the film, which has weight considering some of his public comments about THE FANATIC and Durst.  "I didn't know Fred could write this well...I didn't know he could direct as well, and he blew my mind."   

In closing...yeah...I got nothin'.  

  H O M E