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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fanning Hokey Flames of Baseball and Obsession

The wait, such as it was, is over.

A mere two weeks after "The Fan" was released in the United States, it is showing on the big screen in Moscow. Not two years later, not even two months.

"I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will keep happening," said Vladislav Tsarev, manager for marketing and movie operations at the Americom House of Cinema. Transportation and customs are always a problem in getting new films, he said, but the requisite connections are improving.

That's the good news. But as far as director Tony Scott's new film goes, its novelty may be its strongest recommendation.

"The Fan" combines the classic American pastime of baseball with the less-wholesome phenomenon of psychotic stalking: two themes that separately have driven many a successful movie but here come together in a schizophrenic jumble of hokey baseball truisms and one man's intent to inflict bodily harm. "Field of Dreams" meets "Cape Fear."

Robert De Niro stars as the title character, Gil Renard. A knife salesman with a failed marriage and a pint-sized son who isn't quite up to snuff on the ballfield, Gil's emotional fulfillment, such as it is, derives from his passion for the San Francisco Giants. When they sign his hero, superstar slugger Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), Gil forecasts a "magical conjunction" that will rocket his team to that pinnacle of American achievement, the pennant. He even gets to say so to Bobby himself on a radio talk show. So what if some people think Bobby isn't worth his $40 million contract, or if Opening Day tickets cost $200 apiece? For The Fan, it's all worth it.

As the season unfolds, however, both the adored and the adorer fall into a slump. Bobby can't seem to make contact with the ball, and a rival teammate -- Juan Primo (Benicio Del Toro) -- usurps the primo spot in the fans' hearts. Meanwhile, the boss at the Renard and Garrity knife company -- founded by Gil's father -- tells Gil his numbers just aren't high enough and sends him packing, thereby giving him entirely too much time to dwell on his favorite ballplayer while honing his knife-wielding skills in the privacy of his own room.

Intent on preserving Bobby from stadium booers, Gil appoints himself the slugger's personal savior, but his methods are not exactly consistent with the rules of the game. Did we mention that Gil is a knife salesman? Anyway, his well-meaning plans get him close to Bobby -- so close, in fact, that the idol is revealed as (gasp) a human being. This, of course, is completely unacceptable to Gil and can only be resolved by a violent showdown fraught with shattered dreams and inclement weather.

The role of Gil is no stretch for De Niro. By establishing Gil as obsessive from the very start, the screenplay demands almost no range of expression from him. Already wild-eyed, reckless and profane at Candlestick Park on Opening Day or commandeering his son from the sidelines at Little League tryouts, his character need only pick up a weapon to make the transformation to a bona fide menace to society.

Snipes' slugger smacks more of action hero than of baseball player, but then that could simply be because, unlike so many ballplayers, he is in flawless physical condition. John Leguizamo gives a convincing performance as Bobby's agent, cellular phone permanently affixed to his ear and attention fixed on making Bobby's life worry-free.

But fitting a woman into the male-dominated world of high-profile athletics and violent crime appears to be just as difficult on screen as it is in real life: Ellen Barkin as Jewel Stern, the smooth-talking radio sports broadcaster who provides the first link between Gil and Bobby, has little to do besides peer out from under her hairdo and get labeled a "castrating ball-breaker" for her supposedly hard-hitting interview techniques.

Of course any self-respecting baseball storyline must feature the sacred relationship between father and son because baseball, as we all know, is the single thread that binds together generations of red-blooded American males --therefore, Gil and Bobby each have a son. Funny, they're even about the same age. Thankfully, however, the two young actors manage to lend a little depth to their film fathers' characters. Gil's son, Richie, exhibits endearing tension while in the company of his father, eager to live up to his expectations yet clearly aware that his father's code of conduct leaves much to be desired. Sean Rayburn, on the other hand, displays a comfortable ease around his father, establishing Bobby as a caring dad rather than just your average obnoxious superstar.

As far as The Big Picture goes, you don't have to wait long for "The Fan" to show its heavy-handedness. The movie opens with a solemn liturgy in rhyming couplets, delivered by De Niro in meticulous sing-song intonation, that chronicles Gil's baseball obsession and extols the fan as the lifeblood of the game.

This provides an immediate jumping off point for those pesky philosophical questions that necessarily accompany the baseball theme. Is baseball a metaphor for life? Who calls the shots? Should athletes play for themselves, for money or for the little people? When does a healthy love of the game turn into an unhealthy obsession? And how long do you have to obstruct someone's view before he starts yelling "Down in front"?

"The Fan" is showing Sept. 2 to Sept. 6 at 7 and 9 p.m., and Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 at 4:30, 7 and 9 p.m. in the Americom House of Cinema, located in the Radisson-Slavjanskaya at 2 Berezhkovskaya Naberezhnaya. Tickets cost the ruble equivalent of $8. Tel. 941-8747.

Hans Zimmer's music, combined with a playlist that consists chiefly of the Rolling Stones' greatest hits blasting from car radios, provides an appropriately strident, syncopated backdrop for Scott's jarring direction.

And if the movie's fast pace can't overcome the deficiencies of its thin plot, you might find it interesting to just sit back and watch Snipes' swing, courtesy of technical adviser Cal Ripken, Jr. A touch of star quality for anyone out there who happens to be a fan of the game.