Film Scouts Reviews

"The Fan"

by Karen Jaehne

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When you see Wesley Snipes' name above the title of a movie with Robert De Niro, you have to rethink what you thought you were going to see. Still, you ought to see "The Fan," just to see De Niro pick up where he left off in "Taxi Driver." (Incidentally, the word "fan" is a perfect title, because the word was originally invented to describe people who flocked to baseball games back in the 1890s. The owner of the Chicago White Stockings called these people "fanatikers" because he was a German and then shortened it to a more convenient American "fans." How's that for baseball trivia?)

De Niro IS this movie for the first two acts. The minute we see him trying to peddle knives as a legitimate salesman for a first-class knife company (that is going downhill like everything else in American manufacturing), we remember that someone once said, "we shape our tools, and our tools shape us." De Niro will live by the knife, die by the knife, before it's all over.

But meanwhile, we have to see the "arc of the character" of the baseball player, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), who is De Niro's hero. "Last year he hit .314 against lefties." That's the kind of stuff baseball aficionados know. It's an arcane discipline, and De Niro is clearly smart enough to master it. But he's not smart enough to keep his job, his wife or access to his son - and that's what killing him. Baseball just makes life liveable.

The subplot involves Snipes as a baseball player, and when they're anywhere near the field, the picture is terrific. It feels like baseball, smells like baseball - hey, it's Candlestick Park! And we're cheering with De Niro for a team we love, and they're hitting. And then they're not. And De Niro has to do a little something to restore his hero to his former glory. It's savage but it works - particularly because we're not sure, at first, if it really happened or is just a fantasy. FANtasy, right?

There's an old adage for celebrities: it's not the hate mail you gotta fear but the love letters. Behind them lurk the psychos. If you're as nauseated by celebrity culture as I am by now, you figure celebrities have it coming. It's all in their game. Frankly, I kept hoping De Niro would wipe out Snipes; Bobby Rayburn is so self-obsessed, pouting when he stops hitting, acting as if he actually deserves the $40 mill he's getting from some demented owner of a baseball team. As if actually deserves a stadium full of fans cheering for him. Is this cancer research? Is this solving hunger in Africa? This is only baseball.

Then you really get irked when a movie that has been a very good character study turns into a stupid Tri-Star thriller - victim of some script development department. The last act is full of helicopters, chases, cops, guns, kidnapping in a stadium. Gone is the blink of an eye, the twitch of a cheek, the feel that De Niro's smile is just his teeth holding back a body full of seething anger - at all the things working-class people are angry about: jobs, ex's, the kill-and-grill set at their backyard bbq's.

What this movie does best is what it abandons to become a Wesley Snipes movie. It was better when it was a Robert De Niro movie.

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