Starring: Robert DeNiro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, Benicio del Toro
Rated R for Strong Language and Some Intense Violence
I remember seeing a storyline in one of my favorite comic strips, "FoxTrot," where the nerdy Jason and his equally nerdy friend Marcus are given the task of handling to audio-visual detail for in class movies. The first movie shown is called "The History of Grain," and during the film, the class looks in all directions since sound is coming from every which where. His teacher, Miss O'Malley, admonishes them for it, claiming that their set-up would have been appropriate for a multiplex but not an in-class film.
I thought of that little storyline while watching "The Fan" because it's a psychological thriller directed with enough flair and verve to fill two action movies. By their nature, these films are rather low-key and cerebral, relying on character development and acting to generate tension. However, the film was directed by Tony Scott, who never understood the meaning of the word "subtlety." Watching it is like watching a remake of "Fatal Attraction" directed by Michael Bay. On cocaine.
Gil Renard (DeNiro) is an unbalanced knife salesman with an unhealthy obsession for the San Francisco Giants baseball team. Specifically, the hometown hero Bobby Rayburn (Snipes), who has just signed a $40 million contract with them. However, Bobby's not doing so hot, perhaps because his lucky number 11 has been taken by hotshot hitter Juan Primo (del Toro). While the media and the public turn on him, Gil sticks by him, and he'll do anything to help his hero get back on top.
The film's first 45 minutes are the best. While Scott's overly visual style is intrusive, we get to know and understand both of the main characters. Gil is divorced from a wife who is terrified of him, but loves his son. He's the son of the owner of the company he works for but he's a poor salesman. Bobby is scared that he won't live up to his hype and his superstition about his jersey number drives him nuts. I also appreciated the film's smart cynicism about the love-hate relationship between sports stars and their fans. They love you as long as you keep winning, but screw up once and they'll turn on you faster than you can figure out what actually happened.
Unfortunately, the film slowly descends into action-thriller territory, which is a genre that the film clearly had no business to be in. It's all kinetic and busy, but it's overkill.
The performances soothe the wound. Not enough to save it, but enough to keep it afloat a little longer. Robert DeNiro digs into his bag of tricks to create a psycho who is at times oddly sympathetic. Gil wants to do well, but his brain is too scrambled to know how to do it well. Wesley Snipes is effective as a man trying to be Mr. Perfect 100% of the time. It's a feat everyone expects but no one can deliver. Solid supporting roles are provided by Ellen Barkin as a female sportscaster, John Leguizamo as Bobby's fast-talking agent and a very good Benicio del Toro as the "player of the month."
Should you see it? It's a tough call. There are some effective scenes, nice performances and legitimate suspense. But there's also visual overkill, odd editing over-the-top plotting.
With that in mind, I'll leave the choice up to you.