The Fanatic is a bizarre, and only fleetingly entertaining, thriller that struggles to find its footing and is plagued by a muddled screenplay.
The third directorial effort by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, The Fanatic is billed as a psychological thriller that deals with topics such as entitled and toxic fandoms. In today's day and age, where online petitions to alter franchise canon or remake entire seasons of TV shows are more prevalent than ever, this subject matter definitely had the potential to be timely and relevant - perhaps doing a modernized riff on Rob Reiner's Misery. Unfortunately, the film doesn't set its ambitions much higher than being a disposable genre piece. The Fanatic is a bizarre, and only fleetingly entertaining, thriller that struggles to find its footing and is plagued by a muddled screenplay.
John Travolta stars in The Fanatic as Moose, an autistic man who idolizes the stars of the horror movies he watches religiously. While attending an autograph session at a local collectibles store, Moose is turned away by his favorite actor, Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa), and becomes upset. With the help of his paparazzi photographer friend Leah (Ana Golja), Moose discovers where Hunter lives and frequently pays visit to the actor's private residence. Tensions then rise between movie star and super fan, threatening to boil over at any given moment.
The Fanatic's concept is an interesting one, but Durst and co-writer Dave Beckerman's script isn't executed in the best manner. Their decision to have Moose be on the spectrum is a little troubling, since it comes across as a simple explanation for why the he doesn't know any better as his actions become increasingly creepy. Moose's autism doesn't really serve a purpose thematically or for the character; it gives Travolta a superficially showy aspect to play up, and it's unfortunately the butt of some ill-advised "jokes" where others mock Moose's speech patterns. In some respects, Moose being autistic makes him an easy target for a celebrity like Durst to outwardly voice their frustrations about fan culture, in particular the super fans who obsess over every project. From the beginning, viewers know something is "off" about Moose, so it isn't entirely surprising when he snaps.
More issues in the script arise from its confused messaging. With Moose clearly positioned as the weird stalker who's in the wrong, the assumption would be Hunter is the unfortunate victim. In some respects, this holds true, as there are scenes of Hunter being a kind father to his young son, going over the importance of brushing teeth and tucking the kid in at night. However, there are other sequences where Hunter is portrayed as a truly unlikable person, namely in his interactions with Moose, where Hunter becomes increasingly volatile as the film moves on. This prevents Hunter from being completely sympathetic as a person having his privacy invaded, despite Sawa's dutiful efforts to make the most of the material. Additionally, The Fanatic's third act eventually reaches an absolutely bewildering conclusion that will leave fans scratching their heads more than anything else.
What further hampers The Fanatic are some baffling creative choices by Durst (including, yes, an unfortunate Limp Bizkit needle drop). These can pull the viewer right out of the movie and make it difficult to buy into the story. Suspension of disbelief is a necessary component of filmmaking, but Durst stretches that concept to its absolute limit here - mainly evidenced by the laughably bad "Star Map App" plot device. There's also too much time spent on a subplot depicting a rivalry between Moose and street performer Todd (Jacob Gordnik) that goes nowhere, but seemingly important developments are completely discarded and brought back at arbitrary times. To be fair, Durst is able to craft some suitably eerie set pieces akin to a home invasion film, but that isn't enough to make up for the deficiencies in other areas.
The Fanatic toys with some fascinating ideas, but only scratches the surface of the true conflict at hand. This ultimately makes it a disappointment and a hard film to recommend to anyone who isn't already a major fan of the principal players involved. A tighter script that was more nuanced or subtle (this film features several obvious pop culture references, too) probably would have made it a better experience. This era could definitely use a defining film that tackles toxic fandom head-on and explores the impact that has on both fans and creators, but The Fanatic isn't it. At least with its planned release to streaming platforms, it stands a decent chance of finding an audience that might be interested.
The Fanatic opens in select U.S. theaters August 30 before hitting streaming. It runs 90 minutes and is rated R for some strong violence and language throughout.
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- The Fanatic (2019) release date: Aug 30, 2019