The Fan (1996)

Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Phoef Sutton

In complete fairness, I was warned about The Fan when I was assembling the list for this baseball marathon. Those, much smarter than I, cautioned about just how bad this movie was, and how it was not worth inclusion on such a list. However, since it remained one baseball movie I had never seen, perhaps for good reason, I decided to include it on my list. For even if it turned out to be bad, the experience of seeing this movie helps my perfectionist/completionist mind rest at night, plus I’ve always said that seeing the truly bad movies only helps to put the good ones into perspective and appreciate them that much more. In addition, with the names involved in the project, I assumed it couldn’t be that bad. Boring, or not good, a flop, sure, but I was not prepared for failure on this level.

The film is based on a novel, which is that much more surprising to me, and focuses on San Francisco Giants super fan and knife salesman Gil (Robert De Niro). When the Giants sign a big time local slugger, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), away from the Braves, hopes are high in the Bay Area, but radio host and sports journalist Jewel (Ellen Barkin) remains skeptical as to whether Rayburn is worth the $40 million. The fans begin to join her as Rayburn struggles at the plate in the early goings of the season, a struggle he attributes to fellow star player Juan Primo (Benicio del Toro) not giving his number (11) to Rayburn, who attributes his success to the number. After a restraining order is issued against Gil, keeping him from his son, his obsession turns to Rayburn and the team he follows a little closer than any fan really should.

Scott’s film lost me about 45 minutes into the film when, at that point, very little interesting had yet happened. All of the content of the first hour or so seemed to be filler of some sort, serving limited purpose in the story being told. Once things got turned up a notch and the “thriller” began, if you can call it that, the film quickly went off the rails into bonkerland and never came back. De Niro’s character is far too off kilter and descends far too quickly into his darkness with too little background, depth, or motivation. In fact, none of the characters are given very much depth throughout, making it even tougher to connect to them while crazy, stupid things are unfolding. With such a strong cast, it seems a crime that none of them were really given enough to dig in to, not having an opportunity to really shine or show off their chops.

The whole film becomes very cartoonish, very quickly, but even more so in the second half. Each scene feels more fake and setup than the last. But the center of the film’s issues is Gil, whose character never feels like he could have made it to where he is in life without a previous, serious psychotic breakdown. He holds a steady job, even though he sucks at it, and he was once married and had a child, even though he’s now divorced. I’m also unsure as to what causes him to snap. There are elements here, like his ex-wife’s new husband taking the role of his son’s father, or the divorce itself perhaps finally catching up to him at his job, but it never feels genuine or earned and as a result just feels way too forced and cartoonish.

Scott has traditionally directed very good, solid thrillers, but this film is empty. The only thing I can think is that in the post-strike environment of Major League Baseball, The Fan is trying to send a message to players and fans alike. Rayburn claims you can’t play for the fans, you have to play for yourself because they’ll leave you when you struggle, which is a good point. But then Gil, the fan, reacts in such a tormented and psychotic way as to give the fans a bad name as well. It seems like a botched analogy where there is little to no balance or attempt at fairness from either side. But then again, by thinking there’s anything deeper to this film is perhaps my own fault, because The Fan is bad. It’s just bad.

** – Poor

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