FILM REVIEW – THE FANATIC. With John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, James Paxton. Written by Dave Bekerman, Fred Durst. Directed by Fred Durst. Rated R for some strong violence, and language throughout. 89 minutes.
Producer/teacher/sometimes-actor John Houseman used to tell those starting out on their dramatic careers that there are two paths they could follow: taking every role that came along or picking and choosing parts that would challenge them. The catch, he’d note, was that looking back over such careers, each offered about the same number of standout roles mixed in with the misfires.
Thus we get to John Travolta. If his career was an amusement park ride it would be a roller coaster. Over the last forty years he’s had landmark roles in movies like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction,” outrageous turkeys like “Battlefield Earth” and “Gotti,” and seemingly everything in between. His latest, THE FANATIC, is somewhere in between.
In it he plays Moose, a mentally challenged man who is obsessed with action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). His sole means of support seems to be as a street performer – a very odd turn as a British bobby – with his only friend a paparazzi (Ana Golja) who at least makes her celebrity obsession pay off. When Moose has an unpleasant encounter with Dunbar, she tells him about a phone app that tells where the stars live. He decides to go to Dunbar’s home. Their confrontations become increasingly nasty as the actor tries to chase away Moose, leading to a violent confrontation with unexpected results.
The movie was directed and co-written by Fred Durst, who was frontman for the rock group Limp Bizkit, apparently inspired by his own confrontation with an intrusive fan. Durst tries to take us inside Moose’s delusions and the affirmation he expects to get from his idol, but there’s no question that Moose lacks basic interpersonal skills. Moose is so sure of the purity of his motives that he greatly resents any suggestion that he’s a “stalker.”
Travolta’s performance is a daring one for a leading man, and will not work for everyone, but it’s clear this is an actor still willing to take chances. With a Three Stooges “Moe” haircut and a scraggly beard, he’s almost unrecognizable at first. It is a role where his character is debased and humiliated in pursuit of his obsession. Travolta may not always make the best choices, but his career is far from over. As when it was revived by “Pulp Fiction,” he needs another such project to come along, perhaps a better one showcasing his segue into character roles.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.