Monday, May 14, 2012


 Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro has made a name for himself playing psychos in memorable Martin Scorsese pictures, such as “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas,” and “Cape Fear.”  In “Top Gun” director Tony Scott’s thriller “The Fan,” De Niro creates another psycho but one with greater credibility.  As Gil Renard, De Niro plays a Willie Loman-like knife salesman whose obsession with baseball in general and the San Francisco Giants in particular takes him over the edge.  When the Giants play $40-million to obtain the services of Atlanta superstar slugger Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes of “White Men Can’t Jump”), Gil gives new meaning to fan worship.  He thinks that Bobby can solve all of the Giants’ problems.  During a radio call-in show, Gil defends Bobby from the barbs of catty talk show host Jewel Stern (Ellen Barkin).

The plot of “The Fan” (** OUT OF ****) cross-cuts between the lives of Gil and Bobby.  Gil’s sales sink to the point that he finds himself out of work with the knife company that his father formed.  Nevertheless, Gil’s descent into self-destruction isn’t the only one.  Bobby shows up in the Giants’ locker room and learns to his chagrin that he will suit up a number 33 instead of his lucky number 11.  As it turns out, rival Giants’ outfielder Primo (Benicio Del Toro of “License to Kill”) wears number 11 and refuses to give it up for less than a half-a-million bucks.  Their first day in the outfield, Primo and Bobby collide in persuit of a fly ball. During the collision, Bobby loses his good luck necklace with the number eleven on it.  Afterward, Bobby falls into a batting slump.  He starts striking out on a regular basis.  Before long the fans are booing him every time that he steps up to home plate.  Gil decides to give Bobby a little help, but this is the last thing that Bobby needs.

Veteran action director Tony Scott pulls out every cinematic trick to propel “The Fan” along to a thrilling conclusion.  Unfortunately, the film loses momentum in the last half hour because predictability paralyzes it. By that time, Gil has turned against Bobby.   The gratuitous, blood-squib squirting finale comes as less of a thrill and more of a thud in a film that is ultimately downbeat.  In other words, you won’t feel chipper after to watch it.  RoberDe Niro’s psycho character earns a little sympathy because his son in the film loves him. 

It is difficult for audiences to hate a villain who can elicit sympathy from another character.  Their troubled father-son relationship shows a human side of De Niro’s Gil Renard so he never degenerates completely into a toxically overblown monster.  Instead, he is a man who paranoia and poor luck undermines him and takes him into the danger zone.  Wesley Snipes brings a virile athletic presence to the role of Bobby Rayburn.  Ellen Barkin hovers on the sidelines as a tabloid-minded sports announcer, but her role appears to have gotten lost on the editing room floor.  Sorry, guys, no nudity here either. “The Fan” is a must see for De Niro fans, but if you’re not up for foul language and the grim side of the human psyche, this R-rated effort may be out of your league.


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