Saturday, September 7, 2019

In Theaters/On VOD: THE FANATIC (2019)

(US - 2019)

Directed by Fred Durst. Written by Dave Bekerman and Fred Durst. Cast: John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, James Paxton, Josh Richman, Marta Gonzalez Rodin, Kenneth Farmer, Martin Pena, Denny Mendez. (R, 88 mins)

"You are a fan. Without you, I'm nothing" - Hunter Dunbar

"I can't talk too long. I gotta poo" - Moose

From the moment a pic of a bowl-mulleted John Travolta went viral, showing him playing an obsessed stalker named Moose in a thriller directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, THE FANATIC was instantly tapped as 2019's must-see bad movie. It's not as if Durst is a completely terrible director--his family-friendly 2008 Ice Cube comedy THE LONGSHOTS was a modest success in theaters--but THE FANATIC is a perfect storm. That's due in part to Durst's place as the poster boy for a rock subgenre that's aged like a piss-warm Monster energy drink, but mainly for the sorry state of Travoltablivion, with the iconic actor having spent the better part of the last decade in a VOD lull that probably makes him long for the glory days of BATTLEFIELD EARTH. GOTTI was a laughingstock and SPEED KILLS his all-time worst, but THE FANATIC is...well, it's something. So much so that you're torn between declaring it the next THE ROOM or admiring its insanity and marveling at the sheer chutzballs audacity of Travolta's truly unhinged, lunatic performance. For better or worse, you've never seen anything quite like THE FANATIC--not even the similarly stan-themed thrillers like 1981's THE FAN or 1996's THE FAN. It's bowing on VOD a week after tanking hard on about 50 screens across the US, which does THE FANATIC a grave injustice: this deserves to be the next midnight movie sensation playing to packed audiences shouting out Travolta's most ridiculous lines ROCKY HORROR-style. Is THE FANATIC good? Fuck no, it's not good. But it was everything I hoped it would be after seeing that pic of Travolta and everyone who loves movies needs to experience it.

Travolta is Moose, an obsessive movie nerd, autograph hound and painfully awkward denizen of Hollywood Blvd, clearly on the spectrum but THE FANATIC doesn't address that. Moped-riding Moose makes some spare cash doing a terrible "London bobby" busking act on the street, but he lives to nab autographs set up by his only friend, low-level aspiring paparazzo Leah (Ana Golja). Leah gets the score of a lifetime for Moose by talking him into crashing a swanky party where his favorite actor Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) is rumored to be in attendance. He isn't, and Moose makes such a scene with another actress (Denny Mendez) that security throws him out. But Moose is undeterred, since Dunbar is also doing a book signing at a local comic shop the next day, but just as Moose gets to the front of the line, Dunbar is called away by a personal matter with his irate girlfriend who's waiting out back. And Moose--who bought the very jacket Dunbar wore in VAMPIRE KILLERS in the hopes of having it signed--never does get his autograph. This leads to a tense confrontation outside prompting Moose to write a heartfelt fan latter and, using a star maps app suggested by Leah, deciding to hand-deliver it, waiting outside Dunbar's house to get his autograph so he can personally tell him how much his movies mean to him. An enraged Dunbar writes his name with a Sharpie across Moose's favorite shirt ("You want an autograph? Here's your autograph!") and angrily tells him to get lost. Moose leaves and comes back, again and again, and the cycle repeats and gets increasingly weird and uncomfortable.

Moose eventually gets inside Dunbar's house as the film ultimately becomes a rote rehash of MISERY, but it's everything up to that point that makes THE FANATIC a must-see. From his first line of dialogue--telling the comic shop manager "I can't talk too long...I gotta poo"--Travolta's go-for-broke performance is astonishing, almost like it's his personal version of the sandwich board scene in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, as if someone has made a grave threat and is "Simon Says"-ing him into engaging in increasingly absurd ways of embarrassing himself. It's impossible to take your eyes off Travolta, starting with his ludicrous appearance, but then with nearly everything he says and does: rubbing behind his ears and sniffing his fingers whenever he gets nervous or excited; standing in front of the mirror practicing what he'll say to Dunbar ("You were really rad in VAMPIRE KILLERS!") and being so proud of himself for coming up with something "rememorable" ("He's gonna love me!"); getting angry with Leah, grabbing his phone, and screaming "See! Watch me! I'm unfollowing you on social media!"; choking a bullying street hustler (Jacob Grodnik) and drooling uncontrollably as he shouts about how he wishes Freddy Krueger would chop off his head; having a crying fit when he's rejected time and again by Dunbar, burning all of his Hunter Dunbar memorabilia and rocking back and forth on his couch as he watches Dunbar movies in his shithole apartment while screaming "You're a big fake!"; sneaking into Dunbar's house after accidentally killing his housekeeper (Marta Gonzalez Rodin) and puttering around, raiding his fridge, taking a dump, sniffing and licking his toothbrush and hiding in his bedroom closet; waiting for Dunbar's insomnia meds to kick in and knock him out so he can rub behind Dunbar's ears and sniff his fingers, stick his finger in Dunbar's mouth, then take selfies with the passed-out actor; and finally tying Dunbar to his bed and demanding his autograph, and totally being seduced by promises that they'll hang out, watch movies, go to Musso & Frank's and get strawberry ice cream, and be total BFFs. You really haven't lived until you've seen a weeping John Travolta crawl into bed to cuddle and put his head on the shoulder of a restrained Devon Sawa and coo "I love you!"

Devon Sawa: in character or genuinely
marveling at Travolta's work in THE FANATIC?
THE FANATIC promised the Bad Movie event of 2019 and goddammit, it delivers. It's got--by the widest margin imaginable--the most over-the-top performance of Travolta's career. You'll marvel at the idiotic machinations that the script (co-written by Durst) has to go through to make the twist ending happen. You'll roll your eyes at Dunbar driving around with his young son and asking "You wanna listen to some music? How about a little Limp Bizkit?" You'll wonder why Travolta needed an "executive assistant" and three additional personal assistants in the closing credits. You almost have to think this is a joke and that Travolta and Durst are in on it. If that's the case, someone forgot to tell Sawa--in some clever casting in that he was the title fanatic in Eminem's "Stan" video nearly 20 years ago--who plays it serious and somehow manages to keep a straight face amidst Travolta's off-the-chain histrionics. It's competent on a technical level--it's not that kind of bad movie--but I can't stress enough how spectacularly terrible it is. I don't know whether to feel sorry for Travolta for sinking this low or to give him a standing O for his unwavering commitment to this mad vision. You're actually uncomfortable not so much for what the character is doing but for watching Travolta bring it to life. It's one of the ten worst films of 2019 but I guarantee it's the only one on that list that I'll be buying on Blu-ray and watching several more times. I don't exaggerate when I say that I haven't been to this level of Bad Movie nirvana in the modern era since the heyday of Uwe Boll.

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