The age of Travolta-sploitation continues with The Fanatic. In it, John Travolta plays his most confounding character yet, a rabid fanboy with poor social boundaries who will stop at nothing to pry into the life of his favorite horror director (Devon Sawa). It has loosely been informed by overeager fans of Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst. You could say that he directed this picture, but it would be a strong word for what has happened here. Let’s say he filmed the movie. Travolta showed up with a bad haircut and an array of horrible Hawaiian shirts and the duo worked through their entire range of disdain for their audiences.
Travolta bumbles through his lines with reckless abandon. It would be hard to imagine any shot took more than a single take. The readings are all over the map, as he fluctuates across an offensive spectrum of fandom personas, before landing on incredulous stalker. We thought Travolta had been bottoming out with Gotti (2018) and Speed Kills (2018), but he has tunneled his way into inventing a new bottom, where once renowned stars who have dabbled in comeback can forcefully create their own retirement. Travolta has reached beyond the Adam Sandler model of enjoying his in-career retirement and sunk into unknown depths of self-parody.
So is The Fanatic funny? Do you think Fred Durst would make a funny movie? The thing about irony is that you cannot be ironic on purpose. Certainly, we have ironically made movies – The Room (2003) being the perennial favorite bad movie. It does not have any of the charm or ambition of that film. It could not be believed anyone involved at any stage of The Fanatic’s development believed it was going to be a great film. It does not have any sense of self-awareness. It also does not set out to be a film that is funny because it’s bad. Durst is not practiced enough behind the camera to know the difference and so has made a film that’s bad because it’s bad.
What is it like to have Mr. Bizkit behind the camera? The film invokes one of the band’s song’s – a prime cut of their George Michaels cover of “Faith”. Here’s the thing about Limp Bizkit, the band has a surprisingly great bassist who lays a fundamental groove to tracks. They stick with you because they have a hooky sound, undercut by their nu-metal posturing of the early-2000s. The film is kind of like that, posturing around some idea that Durst would make a movie with a tangible hook or conceit. This story would soon spiral out of control and become a fun, badly made stalker picture right? Not in any sense. It goes through the literal motions of having story beats without having them, advancing plot without any necessary movement, shifting from one energy to another without a sense for timing. So, when Devon Sawa plays some Limp Bizkit in the car for his son – ‘your dad used to be into this music’ – it feels like the director is in a sorry state too, filled with irreverence for his former self, who used to be worthy of being stalked by their witless fans.
The Fanatic is a psychological thriller without any psychology or thrills. It muddles along at an unbroken pace without establishing or developing, existing outside the fringes of anything like a trying effort. Durst has put the camera on and Travolta has turned in the lowest performance of his year. He is not only underperforming, but regressively tucking into himself, reduced to the husk of a person who used to act, much like Durst used to make music. May they both rediscover their passions.