Cautionary tales about Hollywood as a succubus that feasts on the souls of the beautiful and naïve—or, as a voiceover at the beginning of The Fanatic so eloquently puts it, “a city of bullshitters”—are nearly as old as Los Angeles itself. As early as the 1920s, “Hollywood” was code for a type of turpitude that must be whispered about in secret, lest the young and impressionable be sullied by proxy. But despite (or perhaps because of) this moral tongue-clucking, celebrity worship continues to thrive. Most recently, it birthed “stan” culture, where obsessively commenting on your favorite star’s social-media posts and paying hundreds of dollars for a five-second interaction with them are both considered perfectly normal things to do. In short, The Fanatic is a story that’s been told before. But this time, it’s being told by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst.
Both the opening and closing credits include title cards declaring that this is “a Fred Durst film,” but neither are necessary to mark The Fanatic as his work. (This is actually Durst’s third feature film as director, after The Education Of Charlie Banks in 2007 and The Longshots in 2008.) Whether Durst deserves his status as a pop-cultural punching bag is a matter of personal taste, but he isn’t helping by writing a scene into The Fanatic where Devon Sawa asks his son, “You like Limp Bizkit? I used to listen to this back in the day, this is hot” while driving around the Hollywood Hills (really Birmingham, Alabama) in a convertible. Bizkit blaring in the background, they zip around a corner and almost run over John Travolta, who’s standing in the middle of the road sporting a haircut that might appear cool and edgy on a 25-year-old woman, but just looks like a rat pelt glued to his 65-year-old head. Sawa gets out of the car to scream at Travolta, veins bulging out of his red face. The older man blubbers like a little boy, his childishness enhanced by his purple backpack covered in enamel pins.
Durst says The Fanatic is a remake of the 2016 Indian film Fan, but the “obsessive fan gets too close” storyline has been done so many times that the elevator pitch was probably something along the lines of, “Taxi Driver meets Misery on Hollywood Boulevard.” Travolta, whose character goes by the name “Moose” and lives in a basement strewn with film memorabilia, even delivers a series of Travis Bickle-esque monologues to his mirror. Moose lives with an unnamed condition that feeds his obsession with movies and leaves him vulnerable to scammers—either an intellectual disability, something on the autism spectrum, or both. It’s hard to tell specifically, given that Travolta’s performance is constructed entirely out of loud printed shirts and acting tics lifted from a community-theater production of Of Mice And Men. Our movie-mad Lennie’s opening line: “I can’t talk too long, I gotta poo.”
Moose is lucky. Although—as the voiceover states—L.A. feeds upon the innocent, he has a few friends looking out for him. Sympathetic comics-shop owner Todd (Jacob Grodnik) sells him merchandise at a discount, and lets him cut in line at a book signing. Security guard Dick (Kenneth Farmer) makes sure that the other street performers on Hollywood Boulevard aren’t too mean to him. (Moose’s schtick is dressing up as a British “bobby,” complete with handlebar mustache and godawful accent.) Most significantly, freelance paparazzo Leah (Ana Golja) humors Moose’s obsession with horror star Hunter Dunbar (Sawa, who relevantly played the Stan in Eminem’s video for the song, way back in 2000) by sneaking the fan into the cast party for Dunbar’s latest project. Dunbar isn’t there, of course. So as a salve for Moose’s disappointment, Leah shows him an app she uses in her work that lists the home addresses of famous people—including his beloved Dunbar.
There are a few creepy moments in The Fanatic, particularly in the scenes where Moose tiptoes around the sleeping Dunbar’s house á la the Manson Family’s infamous “creepy crawls.” But mostly, the action, while bloodier than one might expect, is as goofy and dim-witted as the dialogue. (It’s the kind of movie where people wait for their attacker to reload before attempting to grab the gun from their hands.) So underlit that it’s often difficult to see what’s happening, The Fanatic is also peppered with cheap-looking camcorder footage and other flashy, witless tricks. At one point, Durst switches mid-scene to a fish-eye lens and purple camera filter, turning a dramatic dialogue scene into an early ’90s Hole video for about 30 seconds.
It’s not necessary to ask whether Durst is trying to make some kind of commentary on fans and celebrity culture. He says as much, bookending the film with quotes on the subject from our two lead characters. (He also lets the same credits roll twice, at the beginning and end of the film, lest you forget who’s responsible for all of this.) Whether Durst has anything deeper to say than “That’s fucked up, bro” is for wiser and more stoned heads than these to decide. Cinephiles might get a chuckle or two from in-jokes like Moose’s matter-of-fact review of the Maniac movies and the scene where he tunelessly sings “stuck in the middle, stuck in the middle,” while dousing Dunbar with a clear liquid from a gasoline can. But mostly, you’d be better off taking the hour and a half and sticking it up your… yeah.