Rating: (1.5 stars)
I’ll say one thing for John Travolta’s performance in “The Fanatic,” a movie about a rabidly movie-obsessed loser who goes off the deep end when he meets — and is rebuffed by — his favorite actor: He’s committed. Adopting an awkward gait, a nervous, grating delivery, nerdy glasses and an unflattering haircut that is one part mullet, one part jarhead and one part Lloyd Christmas in “Dumb and Dumber,” the actor invests the kind of intensity in his role that suggests he’s angling for an award of some kind. Unfortunately for him, the movie — directed by Limp Bizkit frontman-turned-filmmaker Fred Durst, whose experience with a stalker-like fan is said to have inspired the film — does not live up to the extravagantly wounded ferocity with which Travolta attacks his part.
It doesn’t even live up to the haircut. “The Fanatic” is a psychological thriller with no real psychological insights or particular thrills, other than the gratuitous violence with which the story climaxes.
The 65-year-old actor plays Moose, a childlike man who appears to eke out a living as a Hollywood street performer, portraying a mustachioed British bobby on the sidewalks of Tinseltown, collecting tips from tourists. (Travolta has described the character as “slightly, maybe, on the special needs spectrum.”) His only friend seems to be a papparazza (Ana Golja) who helps him track down the home address of the action star (Devon Sawa) on whom Moose is fixated, after Moose is brushed off by the egotistical actor at an autograph-signing appearance.
Moose then appears at the man’s front door, crosses paths with his car, climbs into his backyard (where he is chased off by a housekeeper, played by Marta González Rodin) and inevitably enters his house, where — well, you can probably guess where this is going. It ain’t good.
Neither is the movie, which limps along, episodically, until the crescendoing — and predictably bloody — denouement.
There’s surprising sympathy for Moose, given Durst’s reported history with his own unhinged fan. In fact, Sawa’s Hunter Dunbar — a performer who seems to be known for such B movies as the laughably titled “Space Vampires” — is the bad guy here: a jerk with a justifiably angry ex-wife (Jessica Uberuaga) and an unseemly sexual history with his housekeeper. (Hunter loves Limp Bizkit music, in what is either self-deprecation or self-aggrandizement.) But that sympathy doesn’t extend to anything especially perceptive about the symbiotic yet fraught relationship between celebrities and the celebrity-obsessed, except the observation that famous people need their fans. The movie opens with this quote: “You’re a fan. Without you, I’m nothing,” attributed to Hunter. (The film also is divided into sections by odd drawings that seem to hint at Moose’s prickly emotional state.)
Delivering a wacky, at times uncomfortably hammy portrayal of neediness, Travolta is certainly watchable. But “The Fanatic” is hardly a worthy showcase for such a bold — and, yes, at times brave — piece of acting. It’s a schlocky setting for a weird little addition to Travolta’s résumé.
R. At AMC’s Hoffman Center 22. Contains some strong violence and crude language throughout. 90 minutes.