The Fan

(Tony Scott, USA, 1996)


The Fan is an obnoxious, aggravating spectacle – an action-thriller that occasionally pretends to address topical, social themes, but then instantly collapses back into bombast and banality.

The culture of celebrity and fandom is a fascinating subject, given its most indelible cinematic treatment to date in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983). In The Fan, Wesley Snipes plays Bobby, a glamorous and disgustingly over-paid baseball star. Gil (Robert De Niro) is the anonymous adoring fan who will "do anything" to help Bobby out of a sudden career slump. Such adoration carries the usual, deadly complications.

What makes Gil tick? Don’t ask scriptwriter Phoef Sutton. For much of the film, Gil is offered to us as a poor, modern Everyman – cut off from family and community, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993) – and De Niro gives the role an understated pathos. Once the action revs up, however, Gil becomes a simple monster, and De Niro recycles all the affected, stiff-necked, psychotic mannerisms he established in Cape Fear (1991).

Director Tony Scott exhibits mannerisms that are even more monstrous to behold. As if paying demented homage to all the pumped-up TV ads and glitzy rock videos of the glorious ’80s, Scott ensures that every single scene of The Fan is full of jolting noises, visual flashes and blaring rock songs – whether or not the dramatic situation calls for them.

Every element of the film seems similarly strained and contrived. Ellen Barkin’s role as a radio broadcaster is a case in point. Many current action films (including Independence Day, 1996) have their token, mimsy female characters dangling off the side of the plot. Barkin here is presented as sassy, strident, energetic, a “ballbuster” – but she is still completely superfluous to the main action.

MORE Scott: Crimson Tide, Domino, Man on Fire, True Romance

© Adrian Martin October 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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