Who could’ve predicted that John Travolta would be the actor to pick up Tommy Wiseau’s mantle? Twice in the past year (first with Gotti, now with The Fanatic), Travolta has delivered bizarre performances in strange movies whose mix of cliché tropes with are-they-for-real surrealism brings only midnight cult classic The Room to mind. Unfortunately for Travolta (and for us), only one movie can hold the dubious distinction of being the worst. In place of Wiseau-style eccentricity, The Fanatic has contempt for both its characters and audience.
Written and directed by Fred Durst—yes, that Fred Durst—which only becomes obvious during the scene mid-film where a character literally turns on Limp Bizkit in the car and starts raving about the music of the 90s rap rock band (though his choice of accolade — “that is nice!” — does not sound like something an actual person would say while praising their favorite music). It centers on a man named Moose (Travolta), who is a big horror film fan with a special affection for actor Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) that spirals into obsession. It cannot be emphasized enough that Travolta’s first line in the film, spoken to a clerk at his local video store, is “I can’t talk too long, I gotta poo.” That opening really sets the tone for everything that follows.
Is Moose autistic? The word is never used, but the character speaks in halting sentences and bristles with undisguised passions. Yet even if he was officially classified as neuroatypical, it wouldn’t explain the illogical decisions Moose makes over the course of the movie. For instance, when a personal mix-up curtails Hunter’s visit to the video store, Moose uses an app to find his address and starts stalking the property so he can deliver his “Stan”-style letter. As you might expect from any allusion to “Stan,” things just keep getting worse from there.
The Fanatic arrives into a world where the word “stan” has gone from the title of Eminem’s cautionary tale of fandom to being unironically embraced by the most passionate fans in pop culture. With the magic of the modern internet, fans can unite across the globe to lift up their favorite artists and share their love. If what happens to Moose throughout the movie is any indication, Durst and company take a dim view of such people. But they don’t have much higher esteem for the actual artists adored by fans. As The Fanatic cascades into a spiral of ugly violence in its final act, Hunter’s arrogance seems just as responsible as Moose’s sense of fan entitlement. The movie has lots of hatred for its own characters, but doesn’t do the work to get viewers even partially invested in their struggles.
Unfortunately, this movie isn’t bad in the way The Room is, where the outrageous nature of the flaws make for fun late-night screenings. The Fanatic is simply painful to watch. Perhaps better than getting your fingers blown off by a shotgun (spoiler alert), but not by much. C-