If you’ve seen 90s Robert De Niro thriller “The Fan”, Rob Reiner classic “Misery” or any other lesser movies about obsessed fans you’ve seen this a hundred times. The only real USP is John Travolta doing something you’ve never seen him do before. It’s not brilliant and it’s certainly not subtle, but it’s a real performance. He’s greying, shlubby, bespectacled and if you haven’t seen him since the earlier roles of his post “Pulp Fiction” renaissance, you’ll get a shock.
He plays Moose, one of those guys who dresses up to get tips from tourists on Hollywood Boulevard, but his character (a comical London bobby) doesn’t exactly draw the crowds. He’s also a professional collector and a grown-up movie nerd, living in a man-cave apartment and collecting paraphernalia from his favourite movies, especially ones that starred action legend Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa).
But he also seems to be a high-functioning autistic, affected by so many tics and triggers it’s a more physical performance that you’ve even seen from him as he rocks back and forth, keens and wails and obsesses over inconsequential details in his life. The only person who truly understands/tolerates/takes care of him is his young friend Leah (Anna Golja), a paparazzi photographer.
He gets the chance to attend a book signing by Hunter at his favourite Hollywood Boulevard trinket store, but when the megastar is pulled out before he’s finished because his actress ex-wife demands he mind their son like he promised, it sends Moose into a bit of a tailspin. He approaches Dunbar in the back alley, trying to get him to sign the jacket he bought that the actor wore for an iconic role, and Dunbar isn’t aware of what a powerful enemy he’s making when he angrily dismisses Moose.
Despite continually protesting that he’s not a stalker and ignoring Leah’s warnings about his behaviour, Moose learns of Dunbar’s address in the Hollywood Hills and starts showing up there, leading to an angry confrontation and warnings to stay away when Dunbar discovers him hanging around.
But when Moose increasingly loses his grip on reality and decency he returns to the house climbing the fence and frightening the maid, eventually helping himself inside and wandering around, soaking in the feeling of being so close to his favourite movie star.
Dunbar has no idea Moose is so close or potentially dangerous, and the sequence of him falling asleep on a sofa and not realising Moose comes in and sits with his idol all night is borderline comical.
But it soon takes a dark turn. When Moose returns the next time the maid sees him again and screams, so he shoves her, her head hitting an ornate fountain in the yard and dying from her injuries. Dunbar wakes up later tied to his bed, Moose sitting nearby and ready to give him a rehearsed lecture on how he’s only successful because of his fans and he needs to treat people better. Dunbar, it seems, is in the hand of a murderous madman.
While there are a few things to like about “The Fanatic”, the story needed to be a bit surer what it wanted to be. The set piece of Moose having Dunbar captive in his house seems to be the high concept hook of the whole movie, but it all takes so long to get there, lasts for such a short amount of time and its denouement comes so easily that the stakes and sense of danger are never quite high enough. When violence does erupt it’s more nasty than exciting, like someone suddenly decided it was an exploitation film.
Maybe the script by co-writer and director Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit fame) was more interested in being a character study all along, a story about a guy who’s fallen through the cracks and needs more support than just a girl barely out of her teens – a friendship that never rings quite true.
The only real enjoyment to be had is in watching Travolta actually create a character, but everything else surrounding him is flabby, ill-formed and fairly unpleasant.
And if you blink at the wrong time you’ll miss the single wryly self-referential scene in the movie, when Moose downloads a stars’ addresses app and scrolls through houses belong to Jack Torrance and Tyler Durden.