Even if John Travolta retired today and flew off into the sunset (in his own plane, of course), never to make another film, he would have long ago solidified his standing as a genuine movie star with a remarkable run of playing iconic characters in generational hits, from “Saturday Night Fever” to —
Well. You know the list.
Granted, the highlight reel would be dominated by performances from 20, 25, 30, 40 years ago — but Travolta is still out there, dancing in a Pitbull video, doing excellent work as Robert Shapiro in the “American Crime Story” series about the O.J. Simpson trial, and starring in passion projects such as last year’s “Gotti,” and now “The Fanatic.”
Unfortunately, as was the case with the poorly received John Gotti film, “The Fanatic” looks to be another swing-and-a-miss destined for a rough critical reception and a quick exit from theaters.
Written and directed by former Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, this is a strange and implausible story of a movie geek whose obsession with his favorite action/horror movie star grows ever darker and more disturbing.
Despite some effectively chilling work by Travolta in the tradition of stalker/fans in movies such as “Misery” and “The King of Comedy,” and some entertaining pop-culture salutes from “Reservoir Dogs” to “Halloween” to “Night of the Living Dead” to a hilariously forced Limp Bizkit car radio cameo, “The Fanatic” is much less than the sum of its bloody parts.
Travolta plays a longtime Hollywood Boulevard hanger-on named Moose, who is clearly on the spectrum, as evidenced by his physical tics and OCD tendencies and his lack of a filter in social situations.
Bullied and abused his entire life, Moose has found a measure of escape and joy by immersing himself in the world of movies — and movie stars.
Moose worships the action superstar Hunter Dunbar (played by Devon Sawa in a strong performance as a narcissistic hothead who believes he’s as much of a rules-don’t-apply-to-me badass as the characters he plays). When he’s given the chance to meet Hunter and get his autograph (courtesy of Ana Golja’s sympathetic paparazzo), he’s over the moon with excitement. This could be the highlight of Moose’s life!
When things go sideways and Hunter winds up barking at Moose, “You need to learn some f---ing manners, buddy!” Moose is heartbroken, and he vows to get some one-on-one, personal time with Hunter so he can explain himself, collect that autograph and be on his way.
The star/fan dynamic has long been interesting to explore, especially so in this Age of Social Media. And given Travolta has been on the bright side of the velvet rope for nearly his entire adult life and has seen the effect his mere presence has had on legions of fans, it’s certainly intriguing to see him playing a superfan who sounds like he’s talking about a god when he mentions a movie star. (When Moose references Jamie Lee Curtis, we can’t help but be reminded Travolta once co-starred with Curtis in the terrible fitness-craze movie “Perfect.”)
But with clunky dialogue, e.g., Hunter bellowing at Moose, “What are you, some sort of freak autograph hound that won’t leave me alone!”, and, “Go back where you came from, stalker!” and a plot twist that could be undone by anyone who was watched a healthy number of “CSI: Wherever” episodes, this drifts into the category of campy oddity, leaving us once again waiting and hoping for John Travolta to find his next great part.