Thursday, May 19, 2011

Swing and a Miss

Ever wake up one day and realize, much to the horror of your very existence, that you’ve never seen the mid-90s thriller wherein Robert De Niro plays a crazed baseball fan obsessed with Wesley Snipes?
It’s a rare, but lethal epidemic of sorts known as The Fandryome. A fast cure is Netflix Instant Watch though tragedy and the FDA’s bureaucratic fascism has since prolonged the waiting period. Write to your senator folks. 
Quick Plot: Meet Gil, a giant Giants fan, struggling knife salesman, and possible inspiration for The Simpsons long-running sad sack. 

Of course, Gil is also played by Robert De Niro or at the very least, the flickering light of Travis Bickle/Max Cady that powered him through the late ‘90s. In addition to creeping towards unemployment, Gil is stumbling through fatherhood via limited custody, an ex-wife who hates his innards, and a son (played in a much less annoying way by the kid who would go on to play The Annoying Anointed One on Buffy’s first season) slowly realizing he SHOULD hate him.

What’s keeping Gil inside the bounds of insanity? Well barely, it’s Bobby Rayburn, San Francisco’s newest center fielder courtesy of a massive $40 million contract. Gil believes in Bobby, and since he’s played by none other than Willie Mays “Wesley Snipes” Hays himself, why should he not? Unfortunately, there’s the little matter of teammate Juan Primo, a blond (!!!) Benecio Del Toro who has already given up his position but refuses to surrender his lucky number 11 to the new superstar.

Bobby hits a slump while Gil’s life continues its downward spiral, helped none at all by his bright decision to abandon his son on opening day and almost beat his ex-wife’s boyfriend with a baseball bat at the kid’s little league tryouts. Oh yeah, and in an incredibly easy series of events, Gil solves Bobby’s Primo problem with a sexy sauna murder.
So much like 51% of Robert De Niro’s filmography, The Fan descends into one unexceptional man’s increasing insanity. It spoils little to say that Gil eventually confronts Bobby while throwing him his own pitches, only to then kidnap his son and demand--like a kid dying from cancer--a homerun hit in his honor. The climax references Naked Gun in ways that makes me giggle as much as, well, watching the climax of Naked Gun

But in a very different way. 
See, The Fan isn’t what most people would call a ‘good’ movie. Directed by Tony Scott with a softer sledgehammer than what he’d later come to use in his films, The Fan still bares the mark of a slick, expensive, and self-important thriller that doesn’t let itself have any real fun with its material. Gil, you see, is not a good man. He pushes his wife and almost steps on his very own son in a bid to grab a foul ball. As a salesman, he’s worse than Pam Beasly-Halpert and even his baseball fandom seems more about obsession than actual baseball knowledge. On the flip side is Bobby, played with believability by Snipes at his best. He’s surprisingly sympathetic, a diva more via his slimy Scott Boras-like agent (John Lequizamo) than actual attitude. It’s a testament to Snipes that a hotshot could come off likable.

But likable enough that we want to see him out-bat rival/teammate Benecio Del Toro? Not so much. The Fan stumbles in a lot of places, from losing track of Gil’s humanity to merely flirting with Bobby’s feelings on the game and his fans. Don’t look here for deep insight into major league baseball, but hey...there’s a baseball bat-caused death so at least there’s that.
High Points
His screentime is sadly not nearly long enough, but in an early role, Benecio Del Toro simply oozes charisma and makes every one of his scenes far more interesting than anything else happening onscreen

Low Points
Was this the start of De Niro’s autopilot journey into acting? It’s not that he’s bad in The Fan; he’s just kind of dull, never seeming to really inject Gil with a real human being. He’s not overly aided by the script, which fails to ever provide an actual backstory to his obsessions. Hey, I’m a former softball little leaguer and current fan of a losing team that pays its players too much money, but you don’t see me kidnapping Oliver Perez’s kids in return for him to pitch a perfect game (because gaaaaaaahahahahahahahahaha is the likelihood of that happening and more importantly, the Mets finally let the millionaire go; had they not, I’d probably give The Fan a rave review)

Lessons Learned
Maybe the reason baseball games take so long is because players occasionally spend a full 25 minutes at bat

Pitchers use their brains. Sluggers are stupid
A piece of tattooed flesh will last several weeks when safely stored in a Ziploc bag
Being stabbed in the thigh is one surefire way to immediate death
Fun Face Spottings
Part of why I love ‘90s cinema is because it often gives me a chance to catch a few surprise actors passing by in bit parts. In the case of The Fan, we get a brief Jack Black cameo and a jolly good turn by Lost’s Mr. Friendly

Stray Observations
The fact that Wesley Snipes’ character is named Bobby is probably more a reference to Barry Bonds than anything else, but anybody else find themselves giggling over the fact that De Niro spends about 3/4 of the film shouting/chanting his own name?

As a devotee of all things baseball and horror, it’s kind of embarrassing to only have seen The Fan now. This is a film that belongs on no must-see list, but the fact that it involves Robert De Niro shaving his legs with a hunter’s knife is somewhat awesome. For an almost ridiculous baseball horror movie, I guess The Fan is currently the best we can do.


  1. Don't feel too sad. Until recently, I went through life not knowing that there was a buddy cop movie starring Christopher Lambert and Marion van Peebles!!

  2. I DIDN'T KNOW THIS UNTIL NOW! Jeez, what have these past 29 years been good for at all?

  3. It's called Gunman, just so you know.

  4. whoa whoa.. wait a sec, theres a buddy cop movie with lambert and peebles!!!?

    Thanks to the deadly one for reminding me to re-visit The Fan.

  5. Tangerine and I thank you heartily!

  6. Now I've got a bad case of the Fanydrome....

  7. If webmd knows anything, the cure should be chewing a wad of tobacco while shouting "Bobby!" seventeen times.

  8. PRIMO LIVES! :)

    And aren't we a little bit thankful De Niro didn't get to the point of shaving the hair on his ass?

    This is about the closest thing to a guilty favorite I have. I know it's crap, but I JUST LOVES IT.

  9. I don't want to live in a world where De Niro shaves his ass...

  10. 1. I'm so glad the Padres got rid of Ollie Perez. The Mets were stupid to give him such a fat contract. 2. Did you notice just how unrealistic Del Toro's bat swing was in that movie? He was like a floundering nancy trying to hit a baseball (read: gay guy). No offense to my rainbow flag flying friends.

  11. Ollie Perez is easily the prime punching bag for Mets fan. SERIOUSLY. Guy has the most erratic season of all time, ends it horrendously, then gets a 36 MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT, can't last two innings, won't go to triple A, UGH!

    I'm okay now.

    Del Toro's swing may have been odd, but I was too taken with his charismo to care!