‘The Fanatic’ Plays as a Hollow Commentary on the Horrors of Celebrity Worship

In “The Fanatic,” the latest film from Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, John Travolta is Moose. Moose lives in the City of Angels, pedalling around by day and making ends meet as a Hollywood and Highland street performer by night. But the streets are always empty, because Travolta’s latest flick was primarily shot in Alabama, which will be immediately apparent to anyone who has ever actually been caught in L.A. traffic.

“The Fanatic” is a misguided and malicious exploitation project about an autistic movie buff, doesn’t seem to understand why people watch movies. It’s never clear what the film’s agenda is, whether it’s meant to be a sick exercise in mean-spirited comedy that’s ridiculously and hatefully out of touch, a hollow commentary on the horrors of celebrity worship, or a crude self-flagellation experiment from a rock-rap artist with a following. Either way, “The Fanatic,” is a miserable time and effectively the direct opposite of anything resembling a satisfying filmgoing experience. 

Los Angeles is full of fake people who will break your spirit, the opening narration informs the viewer. But not Moose. No, Moose is a genuine movie fan and he loves riding his bike through the streets of Hollywood. After stopping in to his local collectible store, he is informed that Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa), one of his favorite action stars, will be doing a signing soon. Overwhelmed and overjoyed by the prospect of meeting one of his heroes, Moose starts foaming about what he should have signed by Dunbar. He decides on an $800 dollar vest the actor wore in a film, proudly donning it backwards as he walks out of the store.

When the signing is cut short due to a “personal emergency” Moose is emotionally distraught (he was the next fan in line). Determined to get Dunbar to sign his vest for him, he starts stalking the actor, even harassing him at his private residence. But Moose insists he isn’t a stalker; he’s just a fan. The signing situation escalates until the action star stabs Moose with a sharpie outside of his home and the fan toddles off down the road with his head aimed towards the asphalt. The misunderstood movie lover is also constantly being abused by pickpocket street performers and the man appears to be getting closer and closer to finally snapping.

One of the most glaring issues with “The Fanatic” is it makes virtually no attempt to address the clearly damaged mental state of its protagonist and it basically reads as a horrific parody of mental health deterioration as a result. The clunky voice-over makes the over-obvious statement that it’s the city of LA itself that will inevitably break out fan/hero down, but it’s clear from the first scene that the problems go much deeper than the film is interested in addressing. 

Initially, the audience has no way of even knowing who the narrator is, but the voice belongs to Leah (Ana Golja) a young woman whom we never learn much about, but apparently she’s Moose’s “BBF.” The details of their relationship are never clear and it’s a bit creepy considering the age difference. Her choppy observations come off like a poorly written copy cat of Sortilège from Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice.” The film seems to think that simply by adding a layer of noir narration it will better succeed as a riff on the genre, blatantly pulling from every obvious deconstruction from “Sunset Boulevard” to “The Big Lebowski.”

“The Fanatic” reads as an empty void of meaningless masochism. Given that it was apparently inspired by extreme encounters with rabid fans that both Travolta and Durst have allegedly experienced, the gross-out climax is especially disturbing. Perhaps torture gore fans will appreciate components of the film, but few will find themselves feeling anything more than a gag reflex.

The Fanatic” opens Aug. 30 in select theaters.