The following article contains spoilers for the film The Fanatic. If you are the sort of person who wants to see The Fanatic cold, I respect that and you should go see it first before reading this.
The Fanatic is many things.
It is the latest film from legendary auteur Fred Durst, notable for fronting Nu-Metal band Limp Bizkit. It is a film starring John Travolta (in a very committed, albeit borderline offensive, performance) as obsessed fanboy *checks notes* Moose. It is one of the funniest filmgoing experiences I’ve had all year (it is not, I should note, a comedy. Or intentionally funny).
There are many things I could criticize about The Fanatic. At one point the main character murders a woman and leaves her dead body on the lawn of a wealthy actor’s house. Her body remains there for, as far as I can tell, at least 2 days and nights without anyone noticing, in order to set up a stupid twist ending. At one point a character turns on a Limp Bizkit song and comments about how great it is (it is not a single either). The script is terrible, full of lines no human being would ever speak. The tone can shift wildly from moment to moment (although it always seems to settle on “Unintentionally Hilarious”) and characters act in ways that seem completely at odds with the situation they’re in, or indeed with their actions of only a few moments earlier.
But none of that is what I want to talk about. No, what I want to talk about is what is The Fanatic trying to say?
It is clear that The Fanatic is trying to say something. Indeed, there are several moments that indicate that the writers are students of one Garth Marenghi, specifically his belief that subtext is for cowards. From the opening moments, in which a secondary character drones in voice over (voice over being one of those devices that can make good screenplays great and bad screenplays abysmal) about how LA is “The City of Bullshitters,” it is clear that the movie has something to say. But what is it?
If the film is a parable about how toxic fans relationships with creators can be, well that’s a worthwhile topic, but it doesn’t tell that well. Travolta’s superfan, Moose, is clearly toxic and awful, but the movie works too hard to make him sympathetic, giving us a brief flashback to his childhood (in black and white, of course) to show how important the movies he’s a fan of became important to him, and making the celebrity he is openly stalking just too callous and cruel to ever be sympathetic. Why is the celebrity (Hunter Dunbar, in case you thought Moose was the only dumb name) getting arrested for the murder that Moose committed treated as him getting his villainous comeuppance? Why does the movie treat Hunter as a horror movie vllain for the scene where he strikes back against Moose, after Moose ties him up and threatens him? It even underscores how important fans are to celebrities, not only having Hunter tell him that, without fans, celebrities are nothing, but opening with a title card with that exact quote (and by the by, never open your movie with a quote from later in that movie).
But if the movie is going in the other direction, talking about how cruel and self involved celebrities can be…well, first off, the director playing his own music in the movie sort of makes that a glass houses situation but also, it never really pursues that theme either. Hunter is callous and cruel and perhaps needs to take a few classes on how to recognize an unstable fan and defuse the situation, but he’s never in the wrong. Moose consistently violates his boundaries (as the sublimely terrible voice over intones “He didn’t just cross the line, he nuked it.”) and by the end has proven himself to be unstable and violent. The films’ ending revels in the brutal violence Hunter metes out against Moose, but Moose did break into his house (twice actually) tie him up and threaten him, and in the end Hunter has a “What have I done” moment and lets Moose go.
So what then? Is the point that everyone is a phony in Hollywood? That it is, as the voice over says, “The City of Bullshitters”? Then why is no one a real bullshitter? Sure there’s a secondary character who pretends to be a street magician so his compatriot can pick pocket people (a subplot that goes nowhere) but aside from that, no one is a real liar. Moose’s love of Hunter and other celebrities is treated as sincere, Hunter loves his kid and seemed to have loved his ex-wife, there are several people who seem to sincerely care for Moose, and want the best for him. Perhaps, if either of the writers are reading this, they could take this piece of advice to heart: If you want to do a takedown of how phony Hollywood and celebrity culture is, then maybe your one papparazo character shouldn’t sincerely care for the protagonist and even be the voice of reason.
And then there are elements that just sort of exist, without rhyme or reason. Moose works as a street performer, pretending to be a…British police officer, complete with fake mustache (over his actual facial hair, naturally) and terrible accent, for tourists to take pictures with, but this is just sort of there. Moose has a grab bag of ticks from the big ol’ checklist of “Movie Mentally Challenged” but this adds nothing except to make the parts where Moose moves into obsessive and violent mildly offensive, and is barely addressed (you’d think a wealthy actor would be able to recognize those ticks and maybe modulate his response). There is a plot cul-de-sac where Moose is bullied by a street magician and his pickpocket partner that gets a lot of screen time, except for a security guard vaguely mentioning that Moose needs to stand up for himself (a moment where Moose attacks the man made me think the movie was going to wander into full Maniac territory, but then he’s never seen again).
The Fanatic is an ineptly executed film, but is so thematically confused that even a great director couldn’t have pulled the script together without a complete rewrite. It wouldn’t surprise me if big chunks of this movie are sitting on the cutting room floor (and given the quality of what they kept…oof) but I doubt adding more in could have fixed the thematic confusion. The film needed to go over its plot, decide what it was trying to say, and figure out what scenes it needed in order to say it. Instead it ends up saying nothing, by virtue of saying too much.