I’d heard nothing but terrible things about The Fanatic before seeing it. But I still went in with an open mind and chose to ignore the embarrassing talk of this story about an austistic film fan (John Travolta) who ends up stalking his favorite action hero resulting in dire consequences. Plus, I was curious to see how the frontman of Limp Bizkit fared as a film director. Well, it turns out the internet was right about this one. Much like Travolta’s wig, The Fanatic is awful.
Moose (Travolta) is a lover of all things to do with the movies – especially horror action movies starring his favorite action star, Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). He doesn’t have very many friends but those who do know him understand his passion for the “cinematic arts”. Leah (Ana Golja), Moose’s paparazzi friend, makes a living tracking down and photographing celebrities so she knows how to find Hollywood stars. After an attempt at getting Hunter Dunbar’s autograph ends disastrously, Leah provides Moose with a way to locate private homes of Hollywood actors via a smartphone app.
Determined to deliver a letter to his idol expressing his feelings and frustrations, Moose tracks down Hunter Dunbar’s home where he once again angers the action actor, which only puts Moose in a worse emotional state than before. Not easily dissuaded and with easy access to his favorite celebrity’s home, Moose starts to cross the boundaries of privacy. Coupled with his growing obsessiveness after failing to communicate with Dunbar and his increasing anger at the world he sees as mistreating him, Moose soon goes down a path that alienates himself from his friends and creates real chaos for the life of Hunter Dunbar where there is no turning back.
John Travolta gives a polarising performance as the titular autistic film fanatic. For the most part it’s pretty cringeworthy but there are brief moments of gold as the actor attempts to portray someone with mental illness, though never in the realm of Tom Hanks in 1994’s Forrest Gump or Sean Penn from 2001’s I Am Sam. Granted, the script he’s working with is complete rubbish so it’s an uphill climb for him to deliver a good scene. Those involving Travolta engaging with street hustlers Todd (Jacob Grodnik) and Slim (James Paxton) are painful to watch and I found myself simply embarrassed for the actors. Poor dialogue and the lack of acting chops from his co-stars really burden Travolta’s performance where we’re meant to feel sorry for him as he’s constantly bullied by these two lowlifes.
But then Travolta has some decent moments with Devon Sawa (Escape Plan: The Extractors) who plays Hunter Dunbar. Fortunately, Sawa does have some acting chops and, despite the wretched script, is able to generate some genuinely great moments with Travolta and his onscreen son Danny (Dominic Salcatore). Watching Travolta become a child in the presence of his idol is surprisingly emotional to watch. He’s in awe of being so close to his hero, yet extremely intimidated and uncertain after the scolding he receives from Dunbar. You almost feel sorry for Moose as he simply wants an autograph and can’t help feeling so obsessed.
Fred Durst (The Long Shots, The Education of Charlie Banks) – who also co-wrote The Fanatic with Dave Bekerman – has done an appalling job with a story that actually has a good premise. An obsessive person who crosses the line is a reliable premise that’s a genuinely scary concept and not just for celebrities. Yet, as crafted by Durst and Bekerman, it feels so unnatural and forced that the conflict is kind of absurd. It feels like it’s trying to educate us on how to treat people and how to respect ones privacy. Sure these situations happen in real life, but the script comes across as something written by a rank amateur who submitted their first draft that was hastily scribbled the night before an assignment was due.
Throw in some very out of place and unnecessary narration as well as the director plugging his band in a cringeworthy scene that makes you go “dude, seriously?” and you’re left with a movie that feels very juvenile and amateurish.
The Fanatic is not a good film. It’s not even enjoyable in the dodgy sense like The VelociPastor. It’s a cinematic trainwreck that left me embarrassed for Travolta, who actually seemed like he was giving it 100 percent here – but even this wasn’t enough. If only Travolta had a better script to work with and a better director, perhaps he could have found a better vehicle for what could have been a memorable performance. That’s a lot of hypothetical “could haves” for a movie that simply doesn’t deserve it. Easily one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year, don’t waste your time on this one.