Aside from Nicolas Cage (Mandy, The Wicker Man), John Travolta may have one of the more interesting Hollywood career arcs. After shooting to leading man status in the 1970’s, Travolta’s prospects nosedived in the 1980’s. Before Tarantino saved his career with Pulp Fiction, Travolta was stuck starring in Look Who’s Talking sequels. Following the disaster that was Battlefield Earth, Travolta’s career slowly dipped again over the 2000’s. Regardless of his movie’s performances, there’s no doubt that Travolta is extremely talented. Now he’s starring in Fred Durst’s The Fanatic. Yes, that Fred Durst. But don’t jump to conclusions. Durst has shown some promise as a filmmaker. Is The Fanatic a new comeback vehicle for Travolta? Or has he just out ‘Caged’ Nicolas Cage.
Moose, an autistic man, scrapes out a living busking on Hollywood streets. An avid movie buff, Moose idolizes horror star, Hunter Dunbar. But when Dunbar cuts an autograph session short, he leaves Moose empty-handed. Angry and hurt, Moose finds Dunbar’s home and shows up to get his autograph. Despite Dunbar’s angry rebuke, Moose continues to harass the actor, becoming increasingly brazen and unhinged. As Dunbar’s patience wanes and Moose becomes dangerously unpredictable, a violent confrontation looms.
The Fanatic is Awkward, Uncomfortable, But Never Suspenseful
Hollywood has given us some good ‘obsessed fan’ movies over the years. There’s Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me and Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy. Along the way, we’ve had some mixed ones, like Tony Scott’s The Fan. But The Fanatic is truly in a league of its own. At just under 90 minutes, The Fanatic is always strange, frequently uncomfortable, but never suspenseful. There’s not much in the movie to justify it being labelled a ‘thriller’.
The Fanatic is always strange, frequently uncomfortable, but never suspenseful.
Believe it or not, former Limp Bizkit-frontman, Durst, has directed some middle-of-the-road movies. But he demonstrates a poor grasp on how to elicit tension or fear. As mentioned above, there are some uncomfortably awkward moments. When ‘Moose’ hides under the bed of his idol’s son, as he’s being tucked in, you’re likely to grimace. It’s a strange scene, but it’s not tense in the way you’d imagine or expect. Strange is the word that keeps surfacing. The Fanatic is strange movie filled with idiosyncratic ticks that may intrigue some, but deter others.
The Fanatic is a Strangely Bad Movie
Though it’s not a ‘good’ movie, The Fanatic isn’t boring. In addition, Durst at least hasn’t given us another ‘cookie cutter’ stalker movie. Where The Fanatic will sharply divide audiences is in the many strange ways it finds to be bad. Whether it’s the animated drawings that intermittently appear between scenes or the odd subplot involving a tweaked out busker, Durst takes the audience on one odd trek. The movie’s climax, for instance, isn’t just abrupt – it’s a randomly violent oddity. Over the course of its 90 minutes, The Fanatic will have you doing multiple ‘double-takes’ with lapses in logic and ‘what just happened’ moments. Yet in spite of all its quirks and bizarre moments, The Fanatic is never so ‘out there’ to draw comparisons to better movies like Cage’s 2018 cult film, Mandy.
Travolta Goes Full ‘Cage’
Give Travolta some credit. He goes ‘full in’ with his physical transformation into ‘Moose’. It’s certainly a committed performance. Unfortunately, it’s also a terrible performance that flips back and forth between laughable and outright strange. Did Durst write ‘Moose’ as autistic? Or did Travolta opt to play the character this way? Regardless of who made that creative decision, it’s a terrible and unnecessary choice. In addition to being potentially divisive, the characterization undermines the story. Instead of a dark psychological thriller about toxic fandom and obsession, The Fanatic explains away Moose’s behaviour as stemming from his disability.
It’s certainly a committed performance. Unfortunately, it’s also a terrible performance.
As ‘Hunter Dunbar’, Durst’s story gives poor Devon Sawa (Final Destination) little to do. He’s an underwritten and, quite frankly, unlikable character. Of course, Dunbar’s character is supposed to be unlikable – after all the movie does reiterate the expression, ‘never meet your heroes’. But much of the movie’s logical gaps revolve around this character. Dunbar’s behaviours shift rapid and while this may be intended to reflect the stress he’s under, Durst’s story hasn’t developed the character enough for it to work.
The Fanatic Has The Potential To Be The Next ‘The Room’
To date, critics haven’t had much nice to say about The Fanatic. Bottom line – they’re on to something. The Fanatic is a bad movie. A really bad movie. In fact, The Fanatic has the potential to join camp classics like The Room and The Wicker Man. From Travolta’s performance to the lapses in logic, there are just enough strange quirks in The Fanatic to earn it a spot on the midnight movie circuit. To be perfectly clear – Travolta is a great actor, and Durst is not a bad director. But this is not a good movie in any traditional sense.