Tag Archives: F

THE FANATIC

While Nicolas Cage has been building a well-deserved reputation for making an unconscionable number of terrible B movies, John Travola has been more quietly running him a close second. The latest entry under his belt is “The Fanatic,” a ludicrous mad-fan opus from Fred Durst (the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, who actually has the effrontery to include an in-joke about the band in the movie), in which he plays an autistic movie buff who takes his favorite Hollywood action star prisoner in his own home after concluding that the guy has insulted him—and by extension, all his devotees.

The result is another embarrassing exhibition for Travolta (“and you thought ‘Gotti’ was bad”), and an excruciating experience for the audience—one that will cause you to laugh and then feel guilty for doing so. That’s because the actor’s character, simply named Moose, is so terribly written and execrably played that the performance becomes a cruel insult to autistic people in general.

Moose is an implausible figure to start with—an overgrown man-child who lives alone in a dingy place supposedly near the touristy streets of Hollywood (though the picture was actually shot in Alabama), where he supposedly ekes out a living as one of those costumed folk who amuse passersby. It’s difficult to believe, though, that his shtick as a London bobby (or is it a Keystone Kop?) would earn him enough to survive for a weekend.

But Moose is principally a fan, and especially a fan of Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa), supposedly an action-movie hero—so much so that we see him going into debt to buy a vest Dunbar wore in one of his flicks from a collectibles shop. He intends to wear it on a special occasion: his only friend, a paparazza named Leah (Ana Golja)—who delivers narration that’s alternately banal and pulpy-purple—is sneaking him into a party where his idol is supposed to make an appearance.

Dunbar doesn’t show up—and Moose is hustled out of the place for being obnoxious and odd anyway—but he gets another chance to meet the star at a book signing. That turns into a bust, too, when Hunter suddenly leaves, ignoring Moose’s pleas for recognition in the process. Leah comes through again, however, effectively providing him with Dunbar’s home address. She tells him not to go there, of course. Fat chance.

The result is a confrontation—or series of them, actually—that show Dunbar to be pretty much an insufferable jerk who orders Moose out of the neighborhood. Also not a very alert fellow, as he fails to notice Moose creeping around his house when he returns (or the corpse he’s accidentally left in the back yard). He even manages to let Moose tie him to his bed and taunt him with accusations about not being considerate enough of his fans (presumably it’s his drug use that leaves Dunbar such an easy target).

Their tête-à-tête concludes with a twist that’s meant to be ironic, but is simply twisted instead, though it’s apparently intended to show that Moose has finally stood up for himself, not just with Dunbar but with the nasty street punks (Jacob Grodnik and James Paxton) who have been bullying him for years, trying to get him to collaborate in their pick-pocket activities—as if he could ever master the technique.

This would be awful stuff under the best of circumstances, but these are not the best of circumstances. The script, based on a story idea by Durst, is a virtual catalogue of loose ends, illogicality and lousy dialogue, down to the flashbacks that provide a bargain-basement psychological explanation for why Moose is such a sad case and the cartoon inserts that act as pointless diversions.

It’s impossible to accept Sawa (whose career seemed to tank after the “Final Destination” franchise) as a star of any wattage, or any of the members of the supporting cast as real people. But of course it’s Travolta on whom your eyes will inevitably be focused, and just as in “Gotti,” he puts on a truly killer example of bad acting in capital letters. At a time when one has the option of seeing what a performer with a condition like Down Syndrome can accomplish on screen (in “The Peanut Butter Falcon”), the caricature that Travolta offers of an autistic man here is truly grotesque, a monument to insensitivity.

From a technical perspective “The Fanatic” is competently made (Conrad W. Hall was the cinematographer—not to be confused with his father, the late great Conrad L.), but no amount of expertise behind the camera could compensate for the atrocities being perpetrated in front of it.

ROBIN HOOD

If you think about it, Robin Hood—despite the avalanche of movies, telefilms, TV series and spoofs about him—has not fared at all well on screens big or small. With the exception of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” the Warner Bros. classic of 1938 starring Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains and a score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the pickings are very slim; certainly more recent pictures with Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe have been pretty much busts. To add insult to injury, a Disney animated version was one of that studio’s weakest feature cartoons, and Mel Brooks’s takeoff “Men in Tights” one of his dreariest movies. Even Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn couldn’t save the late James Goldman’s revisionist take “Robin and Marian.”

To the long, dreary list may now be added this supposedly cool modern spin on the old tale, aimed squarely at today’s action-oriented youth market. A bizarre, goofy, almost unbelievably awful reworking of the legend, the debut feature by Otto Bathurst, who’s previously done some series TV, belongs near the very bottom in the Robin Hood hall of shame, not just among the worst versions of the story but the worst movies of the year.

The plot is specifically situated during the Third Crusade, which would place it in the late twelfth century, but visually the look—in sets and costumes (courtesy of production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos and costumer Julian Day)—is a mash-up of medieval rags, vaguely proto-industrial grime and modernist hipsterism, to which is added a dollop of utter garishness. The result is visual ugliness of an extraordinary sort, especially when combined in the action sequences with chaotic cinematography by George Steel and messily whiplash editing by Chris Barwell and Joe Hutshing.

The narrative cobbled together by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly is an incoherent jumble. Robin (Taron Egerton, acting like something out of a CW teen melodrama) is the lord of Loxley, in love with Marian (Eve Hewson, who smiles a lot and wears pretty clothes) until he’s “drafted” to go on crusade by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn, smirking and hissing throughout). In battle in “Arabia” he engages in battles in which bows and arrows (some in the form of machine-gun-like crossbows) appear to be the preferred weapons, with knives and swords appearing only occasionally. While trying to save the life of a Moslem prisoner—the son of chieftain Yahya (Jamie Foxx, all empty bluster)—from the bloodthirsty Guy of Gisborne (snarling Paul Anderson), Robin is wounded and sent home for medical reasons.

There he finds that he was reported dead, his lands have been seized by the sheriff, and Marian has moved on to wed Will Tillman (Jamie Dornan), a champion of the people. Robin is desolate, but Yahya—now calling himself John—has stowed away on Robin’s ship and now becomes his mentor in marksmanship and dedication to the cause of bringing down the sheriff, who—it turns out—is the chief financier of the crusade, which is merely a war fabricated by the evil church to fill its coffers and keep the people in thrall. (Who knew that Nottingham, of all places, was such a vital fiscal cog in the medieval war machine?)

In any event, Robin becomes The Hood, robbing the sheriff in increasingly reckless heists while posing as his loyal friend—an act that earns him a truly weird monologue by Mendelsohn in which he pours out the truth about his unhappy childhood. But it also earns Robin a private conference with the church’s ultimate representative, the malevolent Cardinal (F. Murray Abraham, oozing hypocrisy from every pore in his withered face), who makes clear the church’s ultimate objective is to continue ruling by fear and, in addition, supplant the king (unseen, but presumably Richard the Lionhearted). Meanwhile Marian is conspiring with Friar Tuck (played by a comically heroic type by Tim Minchin) to get the legal goods on the sheriff.

It all comes down to a big confrontation between Robin, Marian, John and “the people” against the sheriff, Guy (his new henchman) and his army of soldiers. Guess who wins. But there’s a concluding surprise that points the way to a sequel. Fat chance.

This “Robin Hood” represents a totally misguided conception—it’s hard to imagine that anybody ever believed it a good idea, let alone agreed to finance it (what were you thinking, Leonardo?)—that has been put on the screen with a truly gruesome combination of arrogance and ineptitude. It does, however, feature one scene that’s worth seeing, in which Mendelsohn and Abraham appear together, trying to outdo each other in lip-smacking, scenery-chewing villainy. It has to represent a nadir in the careers of both actors, but it encapsulates in a few seconds the sheer ghastliness of this whole horrible movie.