Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 19, 1996
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Phoef Sutton, based on the novel by Peter Abrahams
Cast: Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, Benicio Del Toro, Patti D’Arbanville, Chris Mulkey, Dan Butler, Kurt Fuller, M.C.Gainey, Jack Black, Don S. Davis, Charles Hallahan, Frank Medrano, John Kruk
Have you ever made it a point to steer clear of a particular movie simply because it contained a scene or situation that was so patently ridiculous, watching it would serve no purpose but to drive another nail into the coffin of common sense filmmaking? For me, that movie was The Fan, which I’d staunchly avoided until, after nearly twenty years, the urge to witness for myself its much-discussed (and much-derided) conclusion got the best of me. And so I recently sat down and watched with incredulous eyes as my worst fears were realized, and a professional baseball game was played smack-dab in the middle of a torrential downpour.
Granted, it would be different if this were a comedy about a small town softball game, where for comedic purposes the umps allowed the teams to play through a rainstorm or blizzard or locust swarm, but it wasn’t. This was a serious psychological thriller, with Robert De Niro cast as a dyed-in-the-wool San Francisco Giants fan who’s more than ecstatic when his team signs a Barry Bonds-like superstar, but who soon goes off the deep end when the player doesn’t live up to his hype, or his forty million dollar paycheck. And with major league baseball as a backdrop, the rules of major league baseball should apply…especially when one of those rules demands a game be stopped when it rains!
Mind you, I’m not saying the film was all bad. In fact, at the start things were headed in a decent direction, with both De Niro and Wesley Snipes convincing in their roles as fan and player, and an interesting story developing between the two that hinted to parallel problems in their lives, which in a different movie would have them bonding instead of trying to kill each other. I especially liked De Niro early on, before he went full-bore psychotic and became a caricature; he was definitely troubled, but to some extent you sympathized with him, and couldn’t help but blame the rotten people around him—his ex-wife, his boss, his clients—for pushing him to the brink.
But then, there was the rain sequence. Apparently, during filming of these scenes, everyone on-set tried to convince director Tony Scott that baseball games, professional or otherwise, were never played in a heavy rain. Ever. And for whatever reason, Scott ignored this sage advice, and filmed the scenes in hurricane-like conditions anyway: the field was a swamp, the basepaths were nothing but lakes of mud, and the players were so hopelessly drenched, they were probably carrying an extra twenty pounds of wet in their uniforms. It was as unbelievable as anything I’ve ever seen in film, and not only was it laughable, but nothing short of stupid as well.
And that wasn’t the end of it. Along with the outright dismissal of a host of other rules and conventions of modern baseball, including but not limited to players coming off the bench to bat (instead of from the on-deck circle), playing home games in road uniforms, and having grand slams hit with just one man on base, the film offered another twist that was so head-shakingly absurd, I can’t help but spoil it for you. Ready? During a climactic attempt at an inside-the-park home run, which would decide whether Snipes’ son lives or dies (don’t ask), it’s discovered that…De Niro’s character is now the home plate umpire! Gaaaaadzooks! I sure didn’t see that one coming!
As thrillers go, I’d say The Fan was merely routine, but if you’re a fan of De Niro you might enjoy watching him re-visit Taxi Driver territory again; his sudden left turn from troubled to totally unhinged seemed a bit out of place, but otherwise he was still a fun watch, as always. However, as a baseball-themed offering, this one definitely misses the mark, and loses points for the filmmakers’ shameful disregard for authenticity. Trust me, there are better De Niro films and better baseball movies out there to spend an evening with…although if your only other choices are The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Here Come the Tigers, then I’d recommend sticking with this one. (4/10)