The Fan Review

The Fan - Robert De Niro

(2.5 STARS)

A few films back in my Tony Scott marathon, I wrote about the opening scene of The Last Boy Scout, which saw a star football player get told that he must score a touchdown and win the game or else. As the opposing defenders swarm on him, he pulls out a gun and shoots three of them before turning it on himself and pulling the trigger. It’s truly one of the most bonkers movie scenes of all time, and while it’s laughably unrealistic, there’s something fun about its audaciousness.

Tony Scott’s The Fan is basically a 100-minute version of that scene and one of the most bonkers movies of all time. The short version of the plot should have stopped this movie in its tracks: A struggling knife salesman (Robert De Niro) loves the San Francisco Giants so much that he kidnaps the star player’s (Wesley Snipes) kid.

Yep! That’s the plot of a $55 million movie in 1996 starring two of the biggest actors in the world at the time, and honestly, that’s the just beginning of the madness. Let me be clear about one thing: The Fan is not a good film. But unlike Revenge, still Tony Scott’s worst movie, The Fan is so hyperactive and ridiculous that you can’t help but get somewhat wrapped up in its insanity. Put it this way: If you ever wanted to hear Robert De Niro yell “Attaboy, Bobbaaaaaay!” roughly 200 times in a movie, The Fan will do.

As previously mentioned, the film follows Gil Renaud (De Niro), who sells knives but tends to make his clients feel very uncomfortable during his demonstrations. He can’t keep up the way his employers expect him to, which leads him to make bad choices in other facets of his life – like taking his son (Andrew J. Ferchland) to opening day at Candlestick Park and leaving him there to try to make a sale. That goes about as poorly as you could imagine, and Gil’s ex-wife (Patti D’Arbanville-Quinn) gets a restraining order placed on him.

He ultimately loses his job and starts really obsessing over the Giants’ newest star, Bobby Rayburn (Snipes), whose arrival in San Francisco is marred by a hitting slump the player attributes to not being able to wear his lucky number 11 jersey. He can’t because that number belongs to another great Giant, Juan Primo (Benicio del Toro), who doesn’t care all that much about Rayburn’s struggles at the plate. Giants fans turn quickly on Bobby, but not Gil. He still calls into his favorite sports radio program, anchored by a very enjoyable Ellen Barkin, to sing the man’s praises and excoriate the fans that won’t stand behind his guy. All of this leads to him taking matters into his own hands to help Bobby end his slump and maybe make a great new friend in the process.

The Fan ultimately doesn’t work because Gil’s descent into madness is so all over the place. When the film opens, it’s hard to know what to make of him. He’s down on his luck, yes, but he’s also extremely profane and aggressive at the ballgame, and the irresponsibility he shows around his son – like when he threatens to hit his son’s stepfathers head into the outfield with a baseball bat – is unforgivable. But the film gives us enough time with his kid that you sort of hope Gil figures things out, even while you’re horrified by his behavior. He starts wearing pajamas to Giants games. He kills a bug with a knife from across the room. And then he starts actively getting involved in Bobby’s life, and things escalate despite not ever finding some consistency. The film is based on a novel by Peter Abrahams, and while I’m not sure if the film veers much from the way the novel unfolds, if it doesn’t, I’m not sure why anyone wanted to write an adaptation or what on Earth Tony Scott is doing directing it.

All that said, this is one of my favorite Robert De Niro performances in a long time. Part of that is having become accustomed to him phoning it in (mostly in recent years) or playing the straight man against a more high-wire counterpart (Heat or Goodfellas or even The Score, for example). In this case, he’s dialed up to a 12, and it’s wildly enjoyable to see other people in this world try to figure him out. Wesley Snipes is fine overall as Bobby, but he’s at his best when he and Gil share the screen together. I also really enjoyed a shorter scene between De Niro and Charles Hallahan, who plays Gil’s former teammate. It’s a crucial scene that gives us a lot of detail about Gil, and I thought the actor played it straight perfectly.

I understand why The Fan is a Tony Scott movie many try to forget, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to – faults in all. In that respect, I think it most closely resembles The Hunger, which is ultimately not a successful film either, but its moments of kinetic inspiration make it hard to shake. That’s The Fan. It doesn’t make any sense. None of its characters are well developed. But sometimes you just want a knife fight in the rain on the field during a professional baseball game, and in that very specific case, this movie delivers.

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