THE FANATIC review by Mark Walters – John Travolta becomes a celebrity-obsessed fan

THE FANATIC review by Mark Walters – John Travolta becomes a celebrity-obsessed fan

In the movie THE FANATIC, John Travolta plays a simple-minded fan living in Hollywood who is obsessed with an action star, wanting desperately to meet him and get an autograph… you have to appreciate the irony of one of Hollywood’s biggest and most recognizable names playing an overlooked everyman obsessed with a famous person. The film is being marketed as a horror movie, and in many ways it is, but it’s also a rather well-timed commentary on our current media-obsessed society.

Moose (Travolta) is an oddly dressed and more awkwardly groomed man who lives in Hollywood, working nights by busking on Hollywood Boulevard dressed up as a British bobby. His attempt at an accent is amateurish at best, but the many tourists don’t seem to mind. He also doesn’t have the skills or social abilities to do much else, and this is likely the closest he’ll get to being any sort of actual celebrity. But we realize Moose’s location is deliberate, as he’s obsessed with Hollywood actors and actresses, in particular an action film star named Hunter Dunbar, who he desperately hopes to meet. Moose’s close friend Leah (Ana Golja) is a paparazzi photographer with little respect for her subjects, calling actors and actresses “celebutards” and laughing at their plight. She tries to protect Moose, but tends to use poor judgement when helping him get access to famous people. In one scene, Leah helps him sneak into a swanky party that Hunter Dunbar is supposed to be at, only for him to be kicked out when meeting a random celebrity and getting a little too excited. It looks like Moose might finally get his wish in a controlled way when Dunbar (Devon Sawa) is scheduled to appear at a local memorabilia store for a signing, but just as he steps up to meet the man, Dunbar’s ex-wife shows up and drags him away for an argument. Moose chases his hero outside and interrupts the personal moment, which is strike one in the fading actor’s eyes.

Eventually, Moose finds another way to get close to his hero when Leah gives him a phone app that shows where celebrities live around town. He tracks down Dunbar’s home, and has his second unfortunate run in with the man, which this time really doesn’t end well. Moose is also dealing with another more shady street busker bullying him at night, ramping up his stress level and inner anger. Realizing he can’t get the interaction he hopes for with Dunbar through traditional means, Moose starts trying some riskier tactics to get close to the actor, blurring the line between understandable fandom and uncomfortable stalker.

While we’ve seen movies before about fans of famous people taking their obsession a little too far, the dynamic in THE FANATIC is interesting as the lead character here is a simple-minded man who genuinely doesn’t mean any harm, he just wants to meet his hero who he truly admires. Granted, his personality is a little odd, so it’s easy to see why someone meeting him might not be terribly comfortable, but at his core Moose is a good person. Then there’s Dunbar, the object of his obsession, who seems more content to push someone away than just show them a few seconds of respect and appreciation for their interest. Much of what happens in the film, especially with the interactions between the leads, is a case of bad timing… had Moose met Hunter Dunbar seconds earlier, he likely would have got his autograph and handshake and that would have been the end of it, but because events happened the way they did he was denied that moment, and all of that leads to his increasingly desperate and unhinged behavior. Moose is like a child who wants someone to play with him, but because he’s not properly developed it’s hard for him to make friends and find someone who actually will give him the audience he seeks. While he is at times creepy and disturbing, you can’t help but feel for him as you know his day-to-day life must be pretty bleak.

Travolta has certainly played a wide variety of characters in his decades of acting, but Moose is one that somehow feels new and fresh, or at least something unexpected for the man at this point in his career. Everything about him is weird and kind of wonderful in a nuanced way, this is the kind of character that actors love as there’s so much to work with and so many different ways to interpret it. There are also specific traits Travolta exhibits that clearly came from studying real life people like Moose, very unusual quirks that feel real and inspired in a way that adds to the richness of the role. This persona is anything but glamorous, and it’s fascinating to see him jump in and make this shine. Sawa is also quite good as the increasingly stressed-out Dunbar. He’s hardened up since his days of teen comedies like IDLE HANDS and early horror work in FINAL DESTINATION, looking almost like Steve McQueen these days and really selling the idea of a seasoned action star who may be fading a bit. There’s certainly a bit of commentary not so subtly hidden in the fan being a sympathetic loser type, and the celebrity being a cold man of privilege. Even Dunbar’s personal life is shown to be a mess, with hints of him still not being in the right head space to improve. But the film’s biggest strengths are its twists and turns, which will keep the audience in suspense and in shock a few times, particularly in the rather uncomfortable final act.

This is directed and co-written by Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, who manages to do a lot with the obviously meager budget, and delivers a movie that is surprisingly socially relevant. THE FANATIC was a haunting and relevant look at fame and the obsession with celebrity, carried strongly by John Travolta’s masterful lead performance. Seeing the seasoned actor transform into this character is all at once disturbing and engaging, definitely a career highlight and what is sure to be one of his more memorable roles. There were moments I forgot I was watching Travolta, I just saw “Moose” in front on me, a very effective transformation. This is a rare cinematic project that works both as a horror movie and a timely commentary on the Hollywood dream and fandom in general. Don’t go looking for a happy ending, or even a satisfying conclusion to the proceedings, but see it rather for the message it has that many of us may reluctantly have to agree with… fame is not always fun.

THE FANATIC opens August 30, 2019

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.