“The Fanatic” deals a glancing blow to the golden age of the Fan Boy via a cautionary tale that smacks of the way society used to look at that sort of obsessive, socially awkward cultural cliche that’s too into comic books, GI Joe, Pokemon cards and anything else that most adults leave behind in childhood.
Except, of course, for sports fanatics, who still get a pass.
It’s a dissonant and clumsy if eerily accurate portrayal of a social “type” that really exists, even if its most ardent members are decades younger than John Travolta, who has the title role here.
Travolta is Moose, an Angelino “on the spectrum” who spends his meager savings on anything Hollywood collectible. He’s as into horror and sci-fi as any “Ain’t It Cool News” junkie. And being in Hollywood, he’s close enough to many of those he admires to collect autographs, get this or that memento signed.
Memorabilia store manager Aaron (Josh Richman) sells to him and indulges him his eccentricities. Hey, clientele like Moose come with the territory.
“I can’t talk too long. I gotta pooh.”
Antic, childish, tactless, pleading, Moose travels the city by scooter, dresses in the uniform of his tribe — Hawaiian shirts and baggy shorts — and slaps his head in frustration at any interruption in his manic pursuit of the trophies of his obsession — celebrity interaction, and the proof (selfies, autographs) of it.
Moose just HAS to have the very jacket that one of his idols, Hunter Dunbar, wore in “Space Vampires.” If only he can get it signed!
But $300 just gets him disappointment, as he catches Dunbar (Devon Sawa of “Final Destination,” nasty and buff) at a signing, but misses his chance.
But since another person who indulges Moose is Leah (“DeGrassi High” alumna Ana Golja), a celeb journalist of the video stalkerazzi TMZ school, and our story’s narrator. Thanks to her, Moose has a second shot at Dunbar, at a party.
“Some sort of deaf-mute pervert,” Dunbar mutters once. “Some sort of freak autograph hound that won’t leave me alone,” he says on second meeting.
Finagling a third shot at the elusive, not-quite-a-has-been Dunar is what sends the movie star over the edge.
“How about I sign your face with my f—–g fist?”
And that’s when Moose crosses that line that every celebrity fears any given stranger could cross — violence.
“I am NOT a stalker, I AM A FAN!”
What interested Travolta and more to the point, Limp Bizkit rocker turned co-writer and director Fred Durst, is the ugly edge of the symbiotic relationship between fans and the objects of their adoration.
To the stars, having to deal with “your freaky little hobby” comes with the territory, that whole “Without you, I’m nothing” thing.
To the pursuers, a “Please take more time to show your fans how much you care about them” is punctuated with “celebutard” when they don’t get what they want.
Travolta is saddled with a character speaking dated but, in his case, almost age-appropriate slang — “Oh oh, this is really RAD.”
Moose is an object of pity and mockery, visiting the open bar at the party and expecting a “strawberry milkshake, with real ice cream.”
So much of this ground has been covered in movies such as “The King of Comedy” and every picture named “The Fan” or words to that effect that “The Fanatic” narrows into a simple character study by Travolta. That’s not enough, and what’s here is as quaint and dated as many of the words that come out of Moose’s mouth.
Moose talks too loud, misses every social signal and has been obsessed like this since childhood (seen in flashbacks). He makes pocket money as a British bobby (cop) street performer.
Lot of demand for that on Hollywood Boulevard (Actually, Birmingham, Alabama, a pretty good stand-in). Apparently.
He has rivals who out-hustle him in hustling the tourists, but despises them because, “You don’t respect the Boulevard and you don’t respect the fans!”
“The Fanatic” veers between corny and creepy, and its third act surprises only up the “ick” factor. Sawa makes his irritable actor a little more than a “type,” but not much more.
It all plays Old Hollywood dated, with a near child, Leah, playing the jaded Tinseltown “Sunset Boulevard” narrator.
“They say you should never meet your heroes. But meeting them is not the problem. It’s when you get too close.”
There’s so much that seems off here that running through a mental list of “fixes” gets exhausting. Should “The Fanatic” have ever gotten off the ground? It lurches along, over-reaches for themes and never quite gets a handle on the promising ones.
I could see Jackie Earle Haley as Moose, 25 years ago. He’s more the “type,” and can be fearlessly nasty. Travolta’s edge in most villain roles always feels like a vamp. To that point, “The Fanatic” feels kind of gutless in the ways it backs into its violence, and backs into the sadism that comes with it.
But hell, it took DeNiro two shots at this sort of nut to find the right tone and edge.
Moose feels like an accurate portrait. He is not violent by nature, just loud, over-excitable and monomaniacal. More to the point, he’s simply not that interesting, more a cultural cliche at this point than anything else.
The only viewers he’s guaranteed to make cringe are the fanboys he’s sending up.
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, and language throughout
Cast: John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja
Credits: Directed by Fred Durst, script by Dave Bekerman, Fred Durst. A Quiver Distribution release.
Running time: 1:29