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'The Fanatic' Review: Misery Loves Company

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

The official theatrical poster for, "The Fanatic."

The official theatrical poster for, "The Fanatic."

A Thrilling Rememberable Milkshake of a Film

In The Fanatic, John Travolta portrays Moose; a middle-aged man living in Los Angeles that puts autographs, celebrity interactions, and exclusive memorabilia above anything and everything else. Moose has devoted his life to his passion and much of that devotion has rained down on action movie star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). With the help of his friend Leah (Ana Golja), a photographer and paparazzi in training, Moose finally interacts face-to-face with Hunter Dunbar but it doesn’t go as planned. Moose’s pursuit of Hunter Dunbar soon crosses the line of morality and logic as Moose pushes respect and admiration into full-blown serial killer stalking territory.

The Fanatic has this weird wave of nostalgia that may have already washed over you if you’ve seen the trailer for the film or have been on social media in recent weeks. This is Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst’s third outing as a feature film director, but this is the first time he’s contributed as a writer to the story and the screenplay (fairly certain Durst helped produce the film, as well). Unless you succumbed to curiosity and purposely sought out last year’s so-bad-it’s-newsworthy and box office bomb Gotti, you probably haven’t seen John Travolta in anything since Oliver Stone’s 2012 film Savages. The same can be said about Devon Sawa, who has basically been doing these acting projects that have been under the radar since the R-rated comedy Slackers in 2002.

John Travolta as Moose.

John Travolta as Moose.

It feels like Moose is a character that isn’t fully developed, but you can appreciate what Durst and co-writer Dave Bekerman were going for. Moose is a child trapped in a full-grown man’s body. His mind never matured past a certain point in his life and the film briefly touches on that life moment. As a child, Moose would lose himself in whatever was on television while his mom did whatever she wanted with whomever she wanted in the background. It’s as if Moose’s mind froze at that very moment and stayed that way for the rest of his life.

As an adult, Moose spends his days as other people. He dresses up as an old London police officer with a fake mustache and a terrible accent and acts as this colorful and accentuated tourist guide. The rest of his time is spent collecting and reaching for collectibles from famous people he has yet to obtain. He already has a collection full of signatures and items, so there’s this desire for something unique and different; something that will impress celebrities so much that they’ll want to be Moose’s friend because of it. With all of this going on, Moose never focuses on himself and he never establishes who or what he is as an individual. There is no identity to the character. He wears many different masks without ever wearing one of his own.

Stalker is a Dirty Word

Maybe it’s because most of us haven’t seen Devon Sawa in anything in over a decade, but his on-screen presence is something that has been missed over the years. He seems to be annoyed with the everyday activities and tasks that come with being a movie star and is mostly distracted by his ex-wife. His actions aren’t out of the ordinary of someone accustomed to being in the spotlight, at least as far as cinematic portrayals go, but the Hunter Dunbar character gets more intriguing the more Moose invades his personal space. Sawa taps into a variety of emotions ranging from angry protection to paranoia and sheer desperation. Sawa’s facial expressions aren’t to be overlooked either, as his expression alone in the final scene in the film is more revealing than any string of dialogue could ever dream of being.

The Leah character is an aspect that is poorly developed in the film. Ana Golja is neither impressive nor inadequate in her feature film acting debut and merely does what is required of the role. Throughout the film, Leah acts like she is the victim. She serves as the narrator of The Fanatic claiming that she had no idea Moose would react the way he did. Leah is the character that spends the most time with Moose and the audience can see where the film is going to go from the opening scene based on Moose’s reputation, actions, and Travolta’s performance. Leah serves as Moose’s enabler, but suddenly plays dumb when he takes it too far. His crashing of the cast and crew party at the beginning of the film should have been a dead giveaway. Leah is oblivious solely so Moose can evolve from being a weird fanboy to a lethal stalker. You understand what purpose Leah serves to the overall story and yet wonder why it was executed in a way that insults your intelligence.

Devon Sawa as Hunter Dunbar.

Devon Sawa as Hunter Dunbar.

As a film, The Fanatic thrusts the audience into those tense and awkward moments Moose consistently finds himself in because he’s in too deep. His demeanor already illustrates that he’s mentally unstable with his constant rocking back and forth, the scratching and sniffing of ear lobes (his and others), and don't even think about letting him near your toothbrush. Awkward yet harmless fanboy antics become this unhealthy infatuation that ignores personal space, everyday ethics, and the repercussions of breaking the law and it’s terrifying.

Moose is a simple-minded person where memorabilia takes precedence, he has this desire to be “rrememberable,” he can’t talk long if he has to poo, and loves strawberry milkshakes. The film has these cartoonish transitions in between sequences that look to be drawn in fluorescent chalk and are set to these beautiful string arrangements; these transitions add this tasteful and artsy element to The Fanatic that would otherwise be absent. The Fanatic mostly feels like a modern day reinterpretation of Misery (it's actually a remake of the 2016 Hindi-language action thriller Fan), but it’s also driven by an unsettling performance from John Travolta and the impassioned presence of Devon Sawa. The Fanatic has a few bumbling missteps along the way like Leah’s involvement and an underwhelming conclusion, but the film hammers the distressing sensation of being invested in Moose’s delusional fixation. Even if those blows don’t always land, The Fanatic is a vigorous force that leaves the audience feeling helpless in a skewed world controlled by a grizzled man-boy with a mullet and a moped.

John Travolta and Devon Sawa as Moose and Hunter Dunbar in, "The Fanatic."

John Travolta and Devon Sawa as Moose and Hunter Dunbar in, "The Fanatic."

Questions & Answers

Question: How many times is God's name used with damn in "The Fanatic"?

Answer: I honestly don't remember how many times, "Goddamn," is used in The Fanatic. I only watched the movie once, but I want to say they don't say it at all but if they do it's probably somewhere between one and three times. Is this really important with someone's overall opinion of a movie though? It's good or bad based on the one instance someone takes God's name in vain? I hope not because it seems like a silly thing to make or break an opinion on a film.

© 2019 Chris Sawin


Jacqueline G Rozell on August 27, 2019:

Thank you for the review. I think I will watch this one. People inhabiting their own universe while managing to traverse the sidewalks and streets of what we perceive as reality are usually fascinating to me. Sherlock was such a person and it was excruciating for him to interact with lesser mortals most of the time. I'm looking forward to seeing what someone on the lower spectrum of intellect can do with this scenario.