When it comes to “The Fan,” I’m not one.
A baseball picture with a dark side, the movie could have been called “Field of Screams.” It’s less “The Natural” than “Natural Born Killers.”
But not only is this new thriller dark, it’s also the most manipulative movie of the year, if not the decade. “The Fan” makes infomercials seem mild.
Robert De Niro plays Gil Renard, a San Francisco knife salesman (hmmmm … ) and lifelong baseball fanatic.
Gil is in trouble at work and he’s fighting with his ex-wife. The worse his life gets, the more he focuses on his obsession.
“Baseball’s better than life,” he tells his son. “It’s fair.”
Gil’s new hero is a star ballplayer named Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) who has just signed with the Giants for a whopping $40 million. But Bobby has problems of his own.
His batting goes into a slump, presumably because he can’t wear his favorite number, 11, which belongs to another player on his new team.
Gil, who’s unable to solve his own problems, decides to try to help Bobby with his. That’s when things start to get ugly.
And after Bobby disappoints his No. 1 fan - as all idols eventually must - the movie turns into “Misery” (1990) with caps and jerseys.
“Positive things,” says Gil, “happen to positive thinkers.” But Gil is positively nuts.
Actually, there’s a major difference between the two films. “Misery” had a dark and potent sense of humor, but “The Fan” is dead serious. Where the former was concerned with highlighting the absurdity of fanaticism, the latter is exclusively about making the audience squirm.
Tony Scott (“Crimson Tide”) directs Phoef Sutton’s screenplay in a pounding, punishing style that might have been more appropriate to a film about monster trucks. If not for the superb (if mostly wasted) cast, “The Fan” probably would have been unwatchable.
Early on, there’s a truly chilling scene in which Gil calls Bobby at the Giants’ locker-room and is so thrilled to get his hero on the phone that he is unable to speak. It’s De Niro’s articulate silence that makes that scene memorable.
Snipes is also terrific. Especially impressive is a sequence in which Bobby visits a dying child in the hospital. When the man realizes that the kid’s name is the same as that of his own young son, his reaction - just the slightest hesitation - brings the contrived situation to life.
Effective as the cast is, however, “The Fan” strikes out. Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s life.
xxxx “THE FAN” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Tony Scott, starring Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin Running time: 2:00 Rating: R