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'The Fan': All Fouled Up

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 16, 1996

"The Fan's" Gil Renard (Robert De Niro) is in a league all his own. A hard-core devotee of the San Francisco Giants, Gil doesn't limit himself to wearing team colors and cursing the umpire. If need be, he'll kill for a winning season.

This is no "Field of Dreams," nor is the voice Gil hears a benign one. This preposterous stalker flick, in fact, has less to do with America's favorite pastime or Gil's psychosis than with Hollywood's own obsession with blood sport. And for all British director Tony Scott knows about baseball, the thing might as well have been set in a cabbage patch.

Most of the action is supposed to be taking place in and around Candlestick Park, which appears to be filled with fans wearing '49ers colors. But why quibble, considering that the bases are misaligned and the climactic game goes on in a downpour. Attention to detail apparently is not one of Scott's strengths. For that matter, neither is subtlety.

With the exception of swaggering Wesley Snipes, as the object of Gil's obsession, the actors give shrill, shallow performances. Even De Niro, who has played one too many wacko stalkers, verges on self-parody: Gil is principally "Taxi Driver" Travis Bickle on peanuts and Cracker Jack. Only not quite so lovable.

Gil, a high school baseball star, is bats from the start. He just gets loopier as he loses his job as a knife salesman, alienates his ex-wife and loses custody of his kid. As he falls deeper into insanity, he becomes increasingly fixated on Bobby Rayburn (Snipes), the Giants' newly acquired slugger.

Alas, the $40 million man goes into a slump after a rival player refuses to give up Bobby's favorite number, 11. When the eavesdropping Gil learns of the matter, he decides to rectify the situation in his own twisted way.

Adapted from Peter Abrahams's book by Phoef Sutton, the screenplay is as coarse and predictable as close-ups of ballplayers scratching and spitting. Though the writer does say something about playing for the love of the game instead of the money, he sure picks an onerous messenger in Gil.

But just as "Fatal Attraction" was a warning to straying husbands, "The Fan" serves notice on the Bobbys of balldom. The glove has been thrown down. Keep the faith or get ready to dodge knives and bullets along with the bottles, cans and seat cushions.

The Fan is rated R for language, violence and sexual situations.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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