The Fanatic: The BRWC Review. By Fergus Henderson. – When it was announced last year that Fred Durst, of Limp Bizkit infamy, was about to release a psychological thriller starring John Travolta, it would be an understatement to call the reaction dubious. Not only was it written and directed by Fred Durst, a name that despite his prior forays into filmmaking remains synonymous with the eternally mystifying nu-metal moment – its star is an actor whose career since Battlefield Earth has been in steady, notorious decline. Where the hell would this fit into his body of work?
Then there was the plot, which focuses on an unstable autograph hound who begins stalking his favourite movie star. So, a pulpy thriller addressing celebrity and fandom, guided by a pair who have flailed messily through the flashing lights of fame for decades. It must, at the very least, be something to behold.
Unfortunately, those expecting (perhaps hoping) for the crass and ludicrous genre fare everything about it would suggest will find The Fanatic a disappointment. Durst appears to be re-mounting his bid for a second act as a serious director, his film more King of Comedy than Rob Zombie. Travolta, similarly, has gone full immersion with his character Moose.
Of course, suggesting that the film is trying to make a legitimate point is not the same as saying that it succeeds. Watching this film, one doubts that the film itself has any kind of clear idea about what it’s saying.
The plot is relatively simple and follows in the vein of the aforementioned King of Comedy wherein an unhinged fantasist becomes dangerously embroiled in the life of their celebrity obsession (who turns out to be an asshole). Eventually someone gets captured and things come to a head.
The similarities end there. The King of Comedy’s leadis delusional, hungry for fame and attention. It is Western culture at large that creates and rewards this kind of behaviour, the film says. The Fanatic’s lead Moose, as portrayed by Travolta, is broadly autistic and ultimately just looking for connection in Hollywood’s world of cold artifice.
As it turns out, Hollywood was the real bad guy all along.
This is the grand thesis hitched to the film’s backend, its bid for artistic legitimacy, and it rings hollow. All of the film’s supposed messages are floated half-heartedly over the last ten or so minutes. Everything that comes before scans as a straightforward thriller, a few tonally consistent but poorly done touches of black comedy thrown in for good measure.
The very fact that Travolta’s character is autistic is supremely problematic, and not just for the obvious reasons. It is first used as a plot device, in place of characterisation, to explain his obsession. It is then deployed patronisingly to keep us on his side as his behaviour escalates and things go from bad to criminal.
Ultimately the big problem is that the film is hamstrung by its inability to decide whether or not he’s a bad guy or a sacrificial lamb- although of course if they didn’t want to be known as the people that made the insensitive film with an autistic guy as the villain, they should have stopped a whole lot earlier in the writing stage. Travolta’s portrayal is committed, sure, but sensitive (or advisable at all) it is not.
After flip-flopping around for an hour or so, the film finally ripcords the conflict altogether by making his celebrity idol Hunter Dunbar (easily the film’s best character, played with well observed arrogance and subtlety by Devon Sawa) the true bad guy.
So now we know what a film directed by Fred Durst and starring John Travolta looks like. For the better: it is competently put together, and features a sturdy supporting cast. For the worse: it features an all-time misstep for Travolta. It is po-faced when it should be camp, it is ridiculous when it should be serious, and most disappointingly it is middle of the road when it should have been insane.
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