'The Fanatic': Film Review

An actor who should retire meets a director who never should've started.
8/30/2019

Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst directs John Travolta in an obsessed-fan drama.

Has John Travolta, the cool cat who enjoyed one unlikely comeback after another, finally run out of lives? Embarrassing both himself and his remaining fans in a Fred Durst vanity project, the erstwhile star affects the tics of a developmentally challenged man-child in The Fanatic, a would-be thriller about a man so wounded by his favorite movie star's brusque behavior that he takes the actor hostage. Offering neither in-the-moment suspense nor a convincing portrait of obsession, the movie succeeds in placing one burning question in viewers' minds: With so many established film artists having trouble getting projects financed these days, how has Durst managed to make three features?

Durst can't even make it past the film's introductory voiceover without letting an actor flub a line reading; rest assured that his handling of his hero's sensitive disability will fare much worse. Travolta's "Moose" is a fat, bowl-cut slob on a moped, a horror buff who scrounges a living by posing with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard — not dressed as a slasher-pic villain or Universal monster, but as an old-fashioned London bobby whose accent is grotesque enough to make Dick Van Dyke sound like Richard Burton. He enters the film, walking into a dusty movie memorabilia shop, with the immortal line, "I can't talk too long, I gotta poo."

Moose is the kind of autograph hound who sees all human activities as reasonable opportunities for adding to his collection. With the help of a young tabloid photographer named Leah (played by Ana Golja; their unlikely friendship is never explained), he sneaks into a private party believing he's about to befriend his favorite B-flick actor, Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). He's laughed out of the place, and things go no better when Hunter is scheduled for a book signing at the aforementioned collectibles store: Moose spent his last dollar on a leather vest Dunbar wore in a sci-fi movie, but before he can get it signed, the actor is distracted by some family drama. Moose follows him out of the store, and is so inappropriately persistent that the star finally suggests, "How about I sign your face with my fist?"

That quip fairly represents the quality of abuse Moose takes during the film, both from the beleaguered movie star and from other denizens of the tourist district: Todd (Jacob Grodnik), a busking magician whose act is just a front for pickpocketing, alternates oddly between insulting Moose and begging for his help — though why anyone would expect the big lug to have pocket-picking skills is one of the film's odder unexplored questions. Todd's ugly attitude toward Moose's handicap is echoed by Durst and first-time screenwriter Dave Bekerman, who paint him as a clueless bumbler. While Travolta may believe he's seriously engaging with the character, following thesps like Dustin Hoffman and Sean Penn into the always-dicey enterprise of mimicking disability, his performance is all shtick and no heart: Travolta rocks back and forth nervously; tugs at his ear and sniffs his fingers afterward; and invariably fails to register social cues. When, at very long last, the movie finally contrives to have him take his idol hostage, there's no flicker of intelligence once Dunbar starts to manipulate him.

"You just pretend all day — anybody can do that!," Moose complains to his captive when the latter fails to accept offers of friendship. And as Moose repeats himself, Travolta raises his fists in the air, casting a helpless shadow on the movie screen in the actor's living room: "Anybody! Can do! That!" Cue derisive comments from the audience about the limits of movie-star charisma and the usefulness of a director who knows something — anything — about working with actors.

Production company: Pretzel Fang
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Cast: John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, James Paxton
Director: Fred Durst
Screenwriters: Dave Bekerman, Fred Durst
Producers: Daniel Grodnik, Oscar Generale, Fred Durst, John Travolta
Director of photography: Conrad W. Hall
Production designer: Joe Lemmon
Costume designer: Tamika Jackson
Editor: Nik Voytas
Composer: John Swihart
Casting director: Lynn Andrews

R, 89 minutes