THE FANATIC Review: We Have Reached Peak Late-Stage Travolta

This movie's very unpleasant, folks.

Here's the thing: The Fanatic's built on a strong concept. Moreover, it's a timely concept. There is absolutely a movie to be made right now that pits an unhinged member of fandom against the celebrity that fan is obsessed with. Start there, and I can easily imagine how you'd make that work, maybe even say an important thing or two in the process. There's a real conversation to be had about the ways fandom interacts with celebrities, stars and creators, the perils inherent in those interactions, and the growing realization that social media may be a far more insidious invention than we ever dreamed...but that's not the movie Fred Durst made.

Fred Durst made The Fanatic. This is an ugly, mean-spirited little film, once which doesn't do nearly enough with its admittedly solid premise, and even an exceptionally committed (and, yes, problematic) performance by lead star John Travolta cannot make it worth recommending.

The Fanatic revolves around a guy named Moose (Travolta, clearly playing a character who's somewhere on the spectrum, though the film never really tells us where he's positioned upon it) who loves nothing in the world more than the action films of one Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa, doing very good work with an unlikable character and a script that doesn't give him too many notes to play). Moose is obsessed with Hunter - owns all his movies, collects memorabilia from them, and so on - and as The Fanatic begins we learn that Moose has finagled a deal with a local paparazzi photographer (Ana Golja) to get into a fancy party where he'll be able to obtain a long-sought-after autograph from Dunbar. That plan almost immediately falls apart, as does a follow-up plan to get Dunbar's autograph at a local comic store.

As Moose's desperation to get Dunbar's autograph grows, so does the overstepping he's willing to do in order to make it happen. Refusing to take no for an answer, it doesn't take long before Moose is writing letters and showing up at Dunbar's house. Things get far more transgressive after that, eventually building to a climax that's violent and upsetting and just really kinda unpleasant to watch. But, really, that's The Fanatic in a nutshell: Travolta's performance, while deeply committed, almost feels like something we shouldn't be watching (my wife works with special needs kids for a living, and was basically screaming at the television throughout my first viewing of the film), and he's surrounded by profoundly unlikable characters. It all works in symphony to create a film where you're not entirely sure who you're supposed to be rooting for, or what The Fanatic is even trying to say beyond, "Man, the world just fuckin' sucks sometimes."

And boy does The Fanatic drive that point home. This movie is exceptionally grimy and dark, and when it does finally get violent it gets very violent. I'm not sure that adding comic relief into The Fanatic would've made any sense (and that's clearly not the film Durst was interested in making), but it sure could've used some amount of levity, or even just a few more characters who didn't seem like absolute slimeballs. As it stands, the tone of the thing ends up feeling oppressive: after an hour or so, you get numb to the whole thing, and when it's over you absolutely feel like you need to take a shower. 

Again, Travolta's performance is the most notable thing about this movie, and represents what feels like Peak Late-Stage Travolta. If you've been keeping up with the guy's filmography over the past half dozen years or so, you know he's been, uh, really going for it in terms of outsized performances, and that's certainly the case here. My suspicion is that Travolta is truly beginning to embrace his inherent campiness, and may even be leaning into it (perhaps in the style of his former Face/Off co-star, Nicolas Cage). Speaking as someone who's made charting Travolta's recent career choices something of a hobby (my God, have you seen Speed Kills? Gotti? Trading Paint?), it's undeniable that The Fanatic features a can't-miss Travolta performance, but that recommendation is only for the rubberneckers in the audience (Honestly, my biggest takeaway from this whole thing was: "Someone should write this dude his own Mandy").

If only Travolta's performance were in service of a movie that didn't feel so one-note and cruel. As a director, Fred Durst's work here isn't disastrous - The Fanatic does contain a few interesting flourishes! - but in order for this movie to have worked, it needed to dig way deeper, and the character of Moose needed to be an entitled brat, not a put-upon (and ultimately violent) guy with an ill-defined cognitive disability.