Anyone looking to characterize the stuff Hollywood foists upon the public as vile, vulgar and unentertaining need look no further than “The Fan.” Utterly bankrupt artistically, psychologically and morally, and unconvincing from the overall concept down to the smallest detail, this would-be suspense thriller about an obsessed baseball fan’s demented effort to help his favorite team and player represents ground zero from any audience p.o.v. Star names and a heavy promo push could fill some seats on opening weekend, but heavy turnoff factors will see this one quickly plummet to the bottom of the standings.
This first effort from Mandalay Entertainment has Robert De Niro playing something like a synthesis of his three weirdest roles for Martin Scorsese — the ones from “Taxi Driver,” “The King of Comedy” and “Cape Fear”– with a dollop of Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” thrown in for good measure. It’s as if Travis Bickle had grown up, gotten married and had a kid, become a knife salesman and flipped out all over again.
Ultimate hard-core San Francisco Giants fan Gil Renard (De Niro) couldn’t be more thrilled when the three-time MVP Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) signs a $ 40 million deal to join the team at the start of the new season. We know we’re supposed to suspect the worst when Gil is introduced to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” and it certainly can’t be coincidental that Gil trades in hunting knives rather than in toy souvenir cable cars.
When Bobby quickly falls into the worst slump of his career, the finger points at one of the Giants’ other sluggers, Juan Primo (Benicio Del Toro), who resents Bobby for displacing him in center field and won’t relinquish the number 11 uniform, which Bobby has always worn elsewhere, at any price. So it seems perfectly reasonable to Gil to murder Primo in order to clear the way for Bobby to regain his number and the powerhouse form he’s always shown.
Gil remains at large after the killing, and manages to insinuate himself into Bobby’s world. But when the star seems ungrateful for what he’s done for him, Gil, who has a son of his own he’s barred from seeing, kidnaps the player’s son and forces a gruesome, wildly implausible confrontation on the field at Candlestick Park.
The picture’s offenses are nearly innumerable. From a dramatic and character perspective, Phoef Sutton’s screenplay offers no hook for viewer interest or emotion. De Niro’s Gil is clearly an unhinged cretin from the outset, repeatedly threatening associates and total strangers alike and abandoning his young son on an outing to the ballpark. De Niro’s interpretations of psychos for Scorsese had creepy dimension, but he’s been down this road too many times by now. Snipes’ Bobby fits one’s picture of an arrogant, overpaid contemporary athlete, engaging no sympathy until he is unjustly victimized by his so-called admirer.
The principal supporting characters are all one-note creations, from John Leguizamo’s chain-smoking agent and Del Toro’s thuggish slugger to Ellen Barkin’s absurd incarnation of a radio sports jockey. Nearly every human encounter in the picture is pumped up to a level of abrasive, aggressive crudeness that is both obnoxious and unrealistic, and conversations are very often played out to the accompaniment of music that, the numerous Stones songs aside, is so loud and grating as to distract from, if not obscure, the content.
But it’s from sports and time-frame angles that the film is most preposterous. It is essentially unheard of for a free-agent player to join a team the day before opening day; Gil leaves himself 10 minutes to get from Candlestick to an appointment downtown when he would need three times that long; one never gets a sense of the season, of where we are in it or of how the Giants are doing; the Candlestick action is covered in at least three different stadiums; no game would be continued in the torrential downpour that accompanies the climactic scene; the play-by-play that accompanies Bobby’s final at-bat is ludicrous. And why would a left-handed actor be engaged to play a former catcher , as left-throwing catchers are as rare as 200-pound jockeys?
Individually, any one of these miscues could be charitably overlooked. Together, they make “The Fan” unbelievable and unpalatable from top to bottom.