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Buy Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack--or Else

In 'The Fan,' Robert De Niro becomes dangerously involved in the life of baseball star Wesley Snipes.


It stars Robert De Niro. And Wesley Snipes. The producer is "Forrest Gump's" Wendy Finerman and behind the camera is Tony Scott, recently anointed a Billion Dollar Director by Daily Variety. So how bad could "The Fan" be?

You really don't want to know.

One of the more feeble and misguided pictures in recent memory, "The Fan's" aggressive stupidity raises several questions, all of them more interesting than what's on the screen. Does anyone in Hollywood know how to read? Does anyone think? Is the word "plausibility" more than an entry in a neglected dictionary?

Loud and aggressive, filled with pumped-up visuals and an ear-shattering soundtrack, "The Fan" is part of the trend toward assault films that attempt to bludgeon an audience into weary submission. Yet all its furious sound is not enough to disguise a plot so pinheaded it would embarrass less crass individuals.

While calling anything about this film promising is a mistake, "The Fan" is least objectionable in the early going when it sets up its characters, especially baseball star Bobby Rayburn (played with the appropriate swagger by Snipes), a perfectionist whose .310 lifetime batting average has helped make him a three-time National League MVP.

The San Francisco Giants have just spent $40 million to sign Rayburn, an act that no one applauds more than Gil Renard (De Niro). From his Giants wristwatch to his WNGIANT license plate, Gil is a fan and a half, someone willing to sacrifice everything else in his life to the love of his team.

A beaten-down salesman at the knife company his father founded, Gil is also more than a little bit crazy, and "The Fan," no fan of ambiguity, does not hesitate to show him intimidating his young son, terrorizing his ex-wife and in general behaving like a man wound way too tight.

De Niro has played characters like this from "Taxi Driver" through "King of Comedy" and "Cape Fear," and everything about his performance, from Gil's fake heartiness to his phony chuckle, is wearyingly derivative of earlier work. "The Fan" compounds that difficulty by misguidedly attempting to elicit sympathy for Gil, not realizing how off-putting spending the required extended time with this lunatic turns out to be.

More pervasive idiocy comes from the script, written by Phoef Sutton ("Mrs. Winterbourne") from a novel by Peter Abrahams. For the entire plot of "The Fan" turns on the dubious notion that the great Bobby Rayburn is reduced to a pathetic mass of protoplasm because new Giant teammate Juan Primo (the always intriguing Benicio Del Toro) wears his favorite number 11 and refuses to give it up.

Even worse, Bobby loses his number 11 good luck charm and descends into the nether world of a terrifying slump. Bystanders like his slick agent (John Leguizamo) and a feisty radio sports talk host (Ellen Barkin) dither around in various stages of concern, but it is only Gil who makes a silent vow to stick with Bobby to the end. No matter what.


Shaky as it already is, "The Fan" really collapses at this point. Through a series of coincidences, contrivances and absurdities too embarrassing to relate (though unfortunately not too embarrassing to film) Gil gets increasingly (and dangerously) involved in Bobby's life. Even in thriller terms, nothing rings remotely true here, with even the baseball action--including a game that is not called despite enough rain to unnerve Noah--laced with a heavy dose of preposterousness.

Getting even this much of "The Fan's" plot straight is difficult because Tony Scott, perhaps embarrassed by his script's emptiness after doing quite well with the superior "Crimson Tide," spends all his time desperately infusing confusing visual glitz into this comatose vehicle. Raising the dead, however, is not yet in his repertoire.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong language throughout and some intense violence. Times guidelines: a fatal stabbing, a shooting, a third man clubbed to death and a general air of unpleasantness.


'The Fan'

Robert De Niro: Gil Renard

Wesley Snipes: Bobby Rayburn

Ellen Barkin: Jewel Stern

John Leguizamo: Manny

Benicio Del Toro: Juan Primo

Mandalay Entertainment presents a Wendy Finerman and Scott Free production, released by TriStar Pictures. Director Tony Scott. Producer Wendy Finerman. Executive producers Bill Unger, James W. Skotchdopole, Barrie M. Osborne. Screenplay Phoef Sutton, based on the book by Peter Abraham. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. Editors Christian Wagner, Claire Simpson. Costumes Rita Ryack, Daniel Orlandi. Music Hans Zimmer. Production design Ida Random. Art director Mayne Berke. Set designer Beverli Eagan. Set decorator Claire Bowin. Running time: 2 hours.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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