You could watch a good movie. Hustlers is the talk of the cinephile commentariat; Midsommar just got a fancy new director’s cut; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is still in theaters, racism and all. You could also pick from all the options on whatever streaming platform you subscribe to. (Hail, Caesar! just hit HBO.) Now is the summer of our peak content — one is never lacking for material to consume, across every artistic medium.
Or — hear me out — you could watch a bad movie. Specifically, you could watch The Fanatic, the new John Travolta film directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, for $3.99 on any VOD platform. I know writers tend to exaggerate on the internet, because “New Movie Actually Sort of Good If You Read Me Thinking About It for a Few Thousand Words” doesn’t make for a catchy headline, but it’s without a doubt the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s an instant camp classic you don’t even need to be drunk or high to appreciate. It’s like The Room made by people who are halfway competent at filmmaking, though obviously not competent enough.
The Fanatic is the story of Moose (Travolta), a middle-aged movie superfan who dresses like a child, inexplicably wears a hybrid bowl cut/mullet, and is obsessed with the type of action and horror films that might fall under the label “geek shit.” Specifically, he can’t get enough of Hunter Dunbar (a hauntingly jacked Devon Sawa), an action star with the career of ’90s Keanu and the personal grooming of Jeremy Renner. When the movie opens, he’s intent on procuring Dunbar’s autograph at an upcoming signing, which goes horribly wrong when he behaves like the complete weirdo he is. Because reflecting on any of this — Why Moose? Why the mullet? — would make for boring fiction, Moose instead begins to stalk Dunbar with the hopes of apologizing and/or becoming his best friend. I hope it is not a spoiler to say it goes poorly.
There is so much to chew on, I’m not sure where to start. Moose is clearly mentally disabled, though this is never specified, and instead we have to read into his circuitous speech patterns and lack of social graces while thinking, Wow, this is just offensive. When he isn’t stalking movie stars, he makes a living as one of Los Angeles’ many street entertainers by dressing up as a British police officer, shouting things like “Jack the Ripper!” and “The Beatles are coming!” for a surprisingly large amount of screen time. His first line in the movie is about how he “needs to poo.” He is superhumanly strong, and because of this accidentally commits murder by shoving someone into a bird bath, in a plot point that’s almost immediately dropped. He lives by himself in a gigantic Los Angeles loft crammed with movie memorabilia, though he clearly isn’t making much money.
The tone ping-pongs between “slapstick comedy,” “nail-biting thriller,” and “Oscar-adjacent character study,” all of it pitched to hysteria. Moose’s kind photographer best friend Leah (Ana Golja), who is alternatingly exasperated by and endeared toward Moose, narrates the whole thing as though it’s just another crazy week in Hollywood, which given the eventually horrifying events of the movie makes no sense. The whole plot hinges on the existence of the Star Map App (or as Moose brusquely pronounces it, “the starmapapp”), a free app containing the address of every Hollywood movie star. Part of the story is told via interstitial animations drawn by Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland. At one point, Dunbar and his son listen to Limp Bizkit while driving.
Separate from his primary profession as the crimson-hatted singer of Jacksonville, Florida’s premier rap-rock band, Durst — who co-wrote the screenplay, in addition to sitting behind the camera — has carved out a career as a capable middlebrow-ish director. The Fanatic is the third feature film he’s directed since 2007, and benefits from the presence of Travolta, who is technically still a movie star even though his most memorable role of the 21st century is “the idiot who said Adeel Dazeem.”The Fanatic is presumably an attempt to translate some of Durst’s feelings about fandom — while Moose is technically the protagonist, he’s also plainly a terrifying weirdo, and you’re meant to identify with an increasingly freaked-out Dunbar during their many confrontations. I’m trying to avoid as many specifics as I can, because it’s better when experienced anew, so trust me when I say the narrative climax doubles as a terrifying insight into Durst’s mindset when signing autographs for the thousandth over-interested superfan who says something like, “I loved it when you rapped about sticking the cookie up your ex-girlfriend’s butt. It really helped me get through my divorce.”
The Fanatic currently has 19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a shame, because it’s one of the most memorable movies you could watch this year. It reminds me of a hypothetical 30 Rock bit where Jenna Maroney says, “This is worse than the time I was in that John Travolta stalker movie, directed by the singer of Limp Bizkit.” Whatever three-second gag you can imagine them cutting to is what The Fanatic actually is. You might watch it and think that Travolta and Durst should stop making movies, but I hope the exact opposite happens. It is a mesmerizing, unforgettable piece of shit.