Obsession has long been at the heart of fandom. Throughout the years there have been those unable to distinguish between fiction and reality to terrifying results. There’s plenty to explore about the dichotomy between fans and celebrities, especially now in an era where there are countless people famous for being famous. The Fanatic, the new film from director Fred Durst (yes, that Fred Durst), doesn’t want to explore anything to do with the relationship between fan and celebrity or the razor thin line between harmless fandom and outright stalking. Instead it just wants to torture its mentally unstable main character with increasing degradation until he snaps. While The Fanatic is unmistakably trash, it’s not even fun trash. It’s mainly meanspirited, inept, and hollow.
John Travolta, perhaps at the nadir of his up and down career, stars as Moose, a celebrity obsessed fan living on the outskirts of Hollywood. He’s a collector of various movie memorabilia, especially anything involving horror movie icon Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). As an autograph hound and collector, Moose relies on information from his paparazzo friend Leah (Ana Golja), who also serves as the sporadic narrator of this twisted tale of fandom gone awry. Moose has an unpleasant encounter with Hunter at an autograph signing, and the obsessed fan uses a map to the stars’ home app to find Hunter’s house. Then everything begins to escalate as Moose begins to lose his grip on reality, and his obsession turns deadly.
What makes it impossible to enjoy The Fanatic as B-movie trash is its tone of relentless cynicism and nihilism. This movie has nothing but contempt for every character in its twisted world, but not enough thought or depth behind any of the characters to justify the ugliness. The film actively goes out of its way to make every aspect of its story ugly – fans, tourists, movie stars, paparazzi – but the film has nothing to say about any of these things. The section of Hollywood Blvd. where Moose works at night is a wretched place in reality, full of tourists, hucksters, and vagabonds, but Durst isn’t interested in the grime behind the neon façades except as a plot point where a vicious street magician (Jacob Grodnik) terrorizes Travolta’s Moose for no reason at all.
Credit where it’s due, Travolta really tries to deliver a memorable performance as Moose but his efforts are undone by the lacking characterization in the screenplay by Durst and Dave Bekerman. As written, Moose is nothing more than weirdo with a bad haircut. It’s obvious that Moose is somewhat autistic but the indifference towards the character means it’s nothing but exploitative garbage reinforcing dangerous stereotypes. There’s no insight into the character’s mind, so his descent into madness seems more like an inevitability. Watching this bizarre man-child face constant torment doesn’t move the story forward as much as it displays a streak of sadistic storytelling; pushing everything forward to its predetermined violent conclusion. The Fanatic has nothing to say about our culture of celebrity obsession nor does it want to examine what drives a fan to violence, something that has happened in reality such as the tragic murder of Rebecca Shaeffer in 1989.
The Fanatic is entirely devoid of empathy. It has such a low view of all of its characters that it’s impossible to care about what happens. There are characters that serve no function except to be the victims of violence, and Durst is completely uninterested in the ramifications of that violence. The only moment that The Fanatic shows even the slightest sign of self-awareness is when Durst has a scene of Sawa’s movie star rocking out to Limp Bizkit with his son. That moment is the only 30 seconds of the film that could be considered enjoyable. The Fanatic may be slightly more competent than, say, Gotti, but it doesn’t even have the so-bad-it’s-good sense of absurdity. It’s just bad, very bad.
Fred Durst’s The Fanatic gives John Travolta one terrible haircut and an underwritten, exploitative character in a cynical and nihilistic B-movie lacking in any sense of fun or terror.