Review: The Fanatic

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

the fanatic bannerPLOT: A troubled film fan, Moose (John Travolta), becomes unhinged after being dissed by the movie star (Devon Sawa) he idolizes.

REVIEW: It’s been a rough few years for John Travolta as far as his star vehicles go. Despite a well-received turn on “The People Vs. O.J”, his big-screen output has ranged from the reviled (his ill-advised passion project GOTTI) to the ignored (any of his DTV films like TRADING PAINT, SPEED KILLS and THE POISON ROSE- which came and went without a peep). THE FANATIC is sure to be his most prominent film in years, but it can't be denied that it's not a good showcase for the still iconic actor.

Directed by Fred Durst – of Limp Bizkit fame (not that you’d forget it – with Devon Sawa praising and rocking out to his music in a cheeky moment)- THE FANATIC attempts to radically reinvent Travolta by allowing him to go deep as Moose, the unhinged super-fan. I’ll give Durst some credit for at least trying to convey some sympathy for his anti-hero, but it’s not a skillfully made enough movie to walk this tightrope. For all the people saying JOKER seems like a riff on KING OF COMEDY, THE FANATIC is likely even more inspired by that film, with Moose obviously patterned on Rupert Pupkin, although to give him some sense of innocence they’ve decided to give him an undefined intellectual disability. Travolta has said in interviews that he’s supposed to be autistic, but it's not particularly nuanced. We see Moose hustling for tips as an entertainer on Hollywood boulevard, where he impersonates an English bobby, but you never get an idea of how he pays his rent, stays fed and so on. He just seems to exist, and if you’re making a movie like this where Moose is the lead, some development is needed. Without it, Moose comes off as very thinly sketched. Travolta uses all kinds of mannerisms (such as uncontrobaly bobbing back and forth on his moped) and sports a truly memorable haircut, but it's all surface level. The character has no pathos, despite Durst's attempts to convey this, such as when he melodramatically raises his hands in a darkened movie theater, cursing his idol, by screaming, as if to the Gods, that acting isn't hard. 

Indeed, Durst has given his star license to go way out there, but Travolta’s performance seems ill-advised. He comes off like a cartoon, something that’s driven home by the cartoon sketches Durst uses as interstitials. Were Moose just a bad guy or stalker, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but he’s our lead. Travolta’sa performance only ever really comes to life in the final scenes, which are so good they almost redeem what’s come before. Almost. I'm not sure who's to blame here though – Travolta or Durst – as neither the material nor the performance is as precise as the film needed. 

In some ways, this is too bad, because, while flawed, THE FANATIC does have a few things about it that work. While it's getting a DTV release, it's well-made, with good lensing by Conrad W. Hall. Visually, Durst has a decent eye as a director, and shouldn't be dismissed off hand just because his band isn't as popular as it used to be. Devon Sawa’s performance as the dickish actor Moose idolizes is quite good, and Durst deserves some credit for never making him an easy to root for hero. It would have been easy for this to have become another PAPARAZZI, with his Hunter Dunbar the misunderstood action hero. Instead, he’s pretty clearly a bully, and it’s obvious that Durst wants you to sympathize with Moose to a certain degree, or at least it seems that way. It’s so oddly pieced together at times that you’re never sure. It runs a tight eighty-nine minutes, but another ten minutes or so more of character development would have gone a long way. 

the fanatic john travolta Beyond Moose and Hunter’s relationship, there are other things about the movie that don’t hold water.. For one thing, a character is done away with early on in a way that should have immediately been discovered by the authorities, but nothing happens until the most convenient moment. This is a plot hole that’s tough to ignore. Another problem area is Moose’s relationship with Ana Golja as his paparazzo ally. How these two ever became friends is never explained and their relationship doesn’t make a lot of sense. Her hard-boiled narration also seems like an afterthought, as if it was added in post to give the film a little more coherence. You could have eliminated it and the film would have played better.

In the end, THE FANATIC would be just another passable genre flick were it not for Travolta’s performance, which is cartoonish in a way that seems contrary to what Durst is trying to achieve. Given that Moose is our lead, if that element of the movie doesn’t work, none of it will. Maybe his former co-star Nicolas Cage could have pulled it off, but given where he’s at these days, it feels beyond Travolta’s ability – and as a longtime fan it honestly gives me no pleasure to say that. When he was good he was great and I hope this isn’t his swan song.

The Fanatic



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.