The Fan (1996)

Bad Dad
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1996
Director: 
Tony Scott
Starring: 
Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, Benecio Del Toro
The Setup: 
Psychotic rageball is obsessed with well-paid pro baseball player.
Discussion: 

Crazed stalker movies [also known as ____-from-hell movies] seemed really tedious in the 90s, when they were quite common, but now, at least to me, they seem like good fun! And this one, which I had reasonable expectations for, raised greatly in anticipation as I saw it’s directed by Tony Scott, purveyor of amped-up garbage such as Enemy of the State, Top Gun, Deja Vu and Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake. Scott is also known for his poor moral taste, which is also in evidence here. And we soon discover that we have a rather all-star supporting cast, including Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, Benecio de Toro, Jack Black [seen momentarily] and Chris Mulkey. So let’s rock this mutha!

We open with a purposely awful rhyming poem recited by De Niro as Gil, about how baseball is all about the fans, and love of the game and loyalty to the team, and scorning recent players who play only for themselves. Then we join Ellen Barkin as host of a baseball radio call-in show. Gil calls in to support Bobby Rayburn, that’s Wesley Snipes, superstar player newly signed to the San Francisco Giants for $40 million. They call up Bobby, and let Gil talk right to him.

We now have an intercut sequence describing Gil and Bobby’s lives. Bobby drives a black Hummer and has John Leguizamo as his manager, playing a hustler-manager stereotype. Meanwhile, Gil sells expensive and collectable knives, and is not exactly up for salesman of the year. The film goes right up to 11 first thing as Gil’s manager throws a car door he just happens to have in his office up on the desk, and stabs it repeatedly with a knife. We see Gil get dressed to go out and sell, sell, sell, picking out the right tie and saying “Winning tie, winning guy.” Meanwhile we learn that Bobby’s dad [or something] was #11, and Bobby wants that number, but it currently belongs to the other star on the team, Primo, played by Benicio Del Toro.

We’ve had a few fun scenes, showing us that Gill is a little rageball, the proverbial ticking time bomb, and may have some anger issues. He goes to pick up his son to take to opening day, and his divorced wife makes clear that she is “against this.” It soon becomes clear that Gil has this fantasy about father and son at the ball game, and his son couldn’t care less, but plays along as best he can because he’s a little scared of ol’ dad. Gil gives his son a massive knife to play with. And, in one of my favorite moments, Gil mentions a player, and the son says “Jason Pelligrino’s dad says he’s gay,” which causes Gil is snarl “Yeah? Well Jason Pelligrino’s dad takes it up the ass!” Hehehehe—this is a BAD DAD!

So they get to the game. Gil’s son is looking around and obviously more interested in hot dogs than the game, which his father consistently rebukes. Then there’s a pop fly that heads for the stands, and Gil SHOVES his son out of the way to get it. He’s also standing up and screaming, causing the ire of others behind him, and tension is mounting. At one point Gil says “Baseball is better than life—it’s FAIR.” Then Gil tells his son he has to go make some phone calls—he’s got a big sales appointment at 2:30—and leaves him alone there. Which is amusingly bad parenting, but becomes hilariously bad parenting when you see Gil has LEFT the stadium and is driving to his appointment! Of course, when he comes back, the game is over and his son is gone. He goes to his ex-wife’s house and becomes violent, forcing himself into his son’s room and locking the door. His son’s stepfather, played by Chris Mulkey, proves to be the original ineffective pop when he is ordered repeatedly to call 911—and they do indeed have cause for police intervention—and each time just looks down and makes an “Aww, geez,” expression.

Well, for all his trouble, Gil ends up getting fired. You know, it’s so hard balancing work and family. So he retires to his dark room, the typical psycho’s hangout covered with baseball photos and with knives sticking out of the wall. It turns out that Gil’s place is also plagued with not just cockroaches, but two inch long giga-cockroaches that must have been flown in from the heart of the Amazon or something. He whips a knife at one and cleaves it cleanly in half. Woah, badass. Meanwhile, Bobby has begun a losing streak, which we are meant to believe is because he can’t wear his lucky number, 11. He wears a special jersey that says 11 under his real uniform number, 33. So he’s striking out left and right, and the fans are booing him, and the fact that the team paid $40 million for this guy is getting much attention. He corners Primo in the bathroom—where Gil just happens to be secretly hiding—and asks politely to switch numbers. Primo is not feeling it, and it soon comes to blows. Oh dear. Meanwhile, we’re halfway through our movie, and I certainly would have expected someone to be dead or seriously injured by now—especially after the vast list of potential victims the movie has set up [Primo, the stepdad, the boss, the client who callously blew off his sales appointment, Jason Pelligrino], but no, it’s all just been barely-suppressed rage. Hey, you know, I get enough of that in my daily life.

SPOILERS > > >
So Gil gets connected to Bobby via radio again, and Bobby makes an offhanded comment about how maybe Gil should talk to Primo. Gil just happens to have his tiny tape recorder on hand—this comes standard in the Psycho Stalker’s Starter Kit—and plays it over and over and over, as is recommended in the accompanying Psycho Stalker’s Handbook. We next join Primo in the old abandoned steam room, where he is soon visited by Gil. Primo is asked politely to think about the team and exchange numbers with Bobby, but finally reveals that he has had the number 11 branded onto his shoulder. Then the editing goes rather strange as we see Gil saying “Oh well” and leaving without incident, but start having flashes that he did NOT leave, and they had a fight. Here the music on the soundtrack goes into this alt-metal song, resulting in a shot of Gil lying in a corner, staring up at Primo, standing triumphantly over him in nothing but a towel, a somewhat sexually-suggestive position, as the song blares out “I WANNA FUCK YOU!” There you go, that ol’ Tony Scott poor taste, and this very song will make a notable reappearance later. Anyway, turns out that Gil got one of his big-ass knives in Primo’s leg by a main vein [but not THE main vein] and he is bleeding to death. He lies back and we see Gill brandishing the knife, looking at the branded number on his arm.

Then whaddya know, Bobby starts hitting home runs again! But the fans aren’t pleased, and wave signs indicating they think Bobby killed Primo. Or had him killed. On a radio show, Gil hears Bobby saying he’s glad he’s hitting again, and feels that he is not sufficiently grateful to him for killing Primo. Uh-oh, I see where this is headed.

Then Gil is out spying on Bobby by his beach house when Bobby’s 10yo son, Sean, goes out swimming. He’s out too far for the nanny, then suddenly he’s bumped and pulled underwater. And at home I bolt up in my seat, saying “Shark attack? Is this the rare movie that’s going to plunk a random shark attack right in the middle?” I mean, it’s movies like this where you HOPE for a sudden, out-of-the-blue shark attack, but they happen all too rarely. Anyway, Gil runs down, springs into the surf and drags the boy out safely [all limbs still attached, unfortunately], and Bobby is there on shore all concerned. He throws a perfunctory apology Gil’s way then starts yelling at his son, and whatever struck him in the water is never again addressed. So WAS it supposed to be a shark attack, or what? We’ll never know. Anyway, Bobby invites Gil in, telling him to pick out some dry clothes. Gil goes into Bobby’s closet unattended and puts on his #11 uniform, hiding it under another shirt. He comes downstairs and they chat, Gil saying he’s not into baseball much at all. Bobby says at least he’s not one of those die-hard fans, because those people are LOSERS. He then says the one thing that really sets Gil off: That the only person to play for is yourself, and that it’s just a game and after a while he stopped caring. Uh-oh, someone said the wrong thing. In fact, someone said all three of the EXACT wrong things.

Gil demands that Bobby let Gil pitch to him, where Gil is soon demanding that Bobby admit that he’s just the teeniest bit happy that Primo is dead. Bobby gets freaked and goes inside, but a smidge later discovers that Gil has helped himself to Bobby’s Hummer—and his son!

Gil gets Bobby on the phone while in the car and tells him that what he has to do is hit a home run, and dedicate it to Gil, and show Gil’s photo on the jumbotron. He adds “If that pitcher goes easy on you I’m gonna kill your fuckin' son.” This goes on for a while as you’re thinking that maybe Bobby shouldn’t spend so much time yakking and call the police, especially as he can give them an exact description of the car they’re looking for, but this doesn’t occur to him.

So Gil takes the kid out to see his ol’ buddy Coop. And you’re like “Coop? Have we met this guy before?” But no, he’s just the odd new character introduced 20 minutes before the end. Gil makes them all play a demented game of catch, the poor kid crying, until Gil looks away and Coop helps the kid escape. Gil then beats him, saying he can’t believe Coop would betray an old teammate, when Coop says what is supposed to be a mind-blower: “It was little league! We were 12 years old!” So all this guff about how Gil “knows the game” and “used to play” are referring to Little League! So Gil pursues the kid and corners him in the middle of these industrial train tracks.

And here’s where we have the truly tasteless scene I’ve been gearing you up for. Okay, so you may not think it appropriate for a young boy to be terrorized by a hulking adult man, but how about that while the music on the soundtrack once more blares out “I WANNA FUCK YOU!” How about that? Tasteful? You decide.

Abruptly we cut to the big game the next day, which is supposed to be super-tense as Bobby must hit the home run—but hasn’t told anyone of the situation except the newscasters in the stands—i.e. he has not told the other team. So they try to walk him! Then—it’s a rain delay! Then they get to play again, and Bobby gets two strikes. The pressure! Finally he hits a home run and makes it safe, but the umpire calls him out—and the umpire is Gil! Meanwhile the mood-enhancing rain is falling in sheets.

There’s a tense standoff witnessed by everyone as Gil won’t reveal where the boy is and looks to be about to “pitch” one of his big-ass knives at Bobby, when he gets shot before divulging where the boy is. But no matter, they find him a second later, snug in Gil’s apartment, which just happens to be in the old abandoned stadium, supposed to be another “Ooh” moment. By the way, you’ll notice that the numerous bobbleheads in Gil’s apartment, which have received much coverage, are always bobbling in a “creepy” way, despite there being nothing to set them in motion. Once the kid is rescued, the movie’s over.
< < < SPOILERS END

There are good things about this movie, and it was mostly enjoyable in a silly pulp way, but ultimately it’s something you could miss—as I’m quite sure you have—and still be fine. What I liked most was the first hour in which De Niro is playing this rageball about to snap at any second. Especially details like his boss telling him that people are physically afraid of him, and him being oblivious, wanting only fairness as far as he’s concerned. But the thing is he doesn’t explode soon enough, and after a while you just start thinking “Is someone going to die in this movie? Is he ever going to do anything?” then ultimately it doesn’t exactly follow the traditional stalker formula—which is fine, it doesn’t have to—but it becomes a little disappointingly linear as Gil really only does one crime and then continues to build on it. And that one crime began to seem a little low-urgency.

Then there are other things. You might have noticed that I’ve barely mentioned Ellen Barkin. Well, that’s because her character is only on hand to provide breasts to the otherwise all-male movie, and she could be completely cut out without any diminishment to the story. Parts that receive a fair amount of coverage—like Gil’s boss going nuts and stabbing the car door—turn out to be nothing but character-setting. And ultimately the whole thing needs to move more quickly if it’s going to have this kind of low-energy plot and tension-free resolution. Ultimately I just think the script needed another pass, maybe by someone other than the original author.

Anyway, I would recommend it if you’re both into sports and psycho stalker movies, but pretty much anyone else can safely skip it without any diminishment of life quality.

Should you watch it: 

Nah, not really.