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. 88 minutes.
Given the swiftness with which formerly niche markets such as comic books and sci-fi/fantasy sagas have come to monopolize mass culture, the time couldn’t be more right for a movie examining the unsettling entitlement of contemporary fans. Emboldened by the mob mentality of social media, we witness almost daily eruptions from petulant, coddled customers making insane demands like that HBO re-shoot the final season of their favorite television program because they didn’t like how it ended, or throwing rape-threat-riddled hissy-fits because they’re traumatized by the sight of ladies using the Force or (god forbid) busting ghosts.
The film and television industry is no longer driven by movie stardom but rather pre-existing intellectual properties with built-in fanbases that claim ownership, expecting fealty and supplication from artists daring to work on what’s perceived to be their turf. Horrifying harassment campaigns against the likes of Leslie Jones and Kelly Marie Tran depressingly explain an awful lot about what’s wrong with our culture today, but of course THE FANATIC isn’t interested in any of that stuff and aside from the cell phones could just as easily have been made in 1988.
Directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, this strenuously unpleasant picture stars John Travolta as the Moose, a mentally ill hanger-on among the street performers of Hollywood Boulevard, spending his days fixated on collecting autographs and movie memorabilia. His favorite star is one Hunter Dunbar (great porn name!) a deeply unlikable horror staple on the downward swing of his career, played with a rather stunning lack of charisma by former child actor Devon Sawa. (This is supposed to be a semi-clever bit of casting because 19 years ago Sawa played an obsessed fan in the music video for Eminem’s “Stan” – a song so influential its title has entered the Oxford English Dictionary as a synonym for overzealous celebrity worship.)
His Hawaiian shirts clashing with loud print shorts and a tousled mop of hair he clearly cuts himself, the Moose is a whining, miserable figure, played by Travolta with an antic array of neuroatypical tics from across the spectrum and the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old boy. It’s a hammy, hyper-stylized performance and one that’s deeply uncomfortable to watch, foregrounding the character’s overbearing vulnerability in a manner that feels unbecoming for such a shallow exploitation picture. This isn’t one of those bad Travolta movies that’s a hoot like “Gotti” or “Speed Kills,” it just leaves you feeling icky.
After a couple of embarrassing encounters, the Moose ends up stalking Dunbar, awkwardly hanging around outside his house as we wait for the inevitable violence to occur. Written by Durst and Dave Bekerman, “The Fanatic” lifts entire scenes and sequences from Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” Stephen King’s “Misery” and even Tony Scott’s unintentionally hilarious “The Fan,” blithely unconcerned that these stories are now two or three decades old and all they’ve added to the equation is that Moose’s map to the stars’ homes is an iPhone app.
Directed by Durst in a slickly sheen of puke-flecked yellows and greens, “The Fanatic” has nothing new or of interest to say about celebrity culture. It’s devoid of subplots or colorful supporting characters, so we must just sit and wait for a sick, sad man and a rich, asshole has-been to harm one another. The gore is exploitative and gross, brought off with the dour patina of self-seriousness one might expect from an artist as dull-witted as Durst, who can at least take solace in the fact that no obsessed film fans will be stalking him after this one, unless they’re looking to get their money back.•••
Over the past twenty years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.