Typically, when talking about baseball movies, fans of the sport grade the film on an accuracy curve. You’ll hear fans ask the question, “What did they get right?” They are the filmmakers, actors, and anyone responsible for putting the game on screen. Bull Durham is praised for its accurate portrayal of life in the minor leagues, while Chadwick Boseman is considered to be believable in his play and demeanor as Jackie Robinson in 42

Meanwhile, if a movie gets something wrong, they will never live it down. Despite being an excellent movie, Moneyball is known for its complete erasure of players like Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito – who all did more for the Oakland A’s than Chad Bradford could’ve ever dreamt of doing. And don’t even get me started on Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. I’ve never seen that happen before.

But what if a movie was so completely and utterly inaccurate in just about every way that we stop caring altogether and just surrender to the film’s fictional version of our world? 

That’s Tony Scott’s 1996 film The Fan. Much more of a psychological thriller than a baseball movie, The Fan is more The King of Comedy than The Natural. And since it’s a King of Comedy rehash, Robert De Niro has the right of first refusal to appear in the picture. That’s how he ended up in Joker

De Niro plays Gil Renard, a freaky kinda guy who sells knives for a living. He seems to work for some sort of knife-selling corporation. which I’ve never encountered. These are not cooking knives, mind you. They demonstrate how great their knives are by slashing tires and stabbing car doors with them. I guess it was a ’90s thing. Who are they trying to sell these knives to? Carrie Underwood? Is that joke outdated? The company was started by his father, but we can assume that, because Gil holds no position in management or real responsibilities whatsoever, he must be a real screw-up. He just sells knives. And he’s not even very good at that. 

He’s also a massive San Francisco Giants fan. And it’s a great time to be a Giants fan because they just acquired Bobby Rayburn, played by Wesley Snipes, a perennial All-Star and Player of His Generation™. Snipes is a natural for the role of the hot-shot outfielder because he had already played that part in Major League. He just signed a $40 million contract and, despite being the best player in the sport, Giants fans need him to prove he’s worth that much money. They never specify the length of his contract, but he’s kind of a Barry Bonds* stand-in. He’s a highly paid outfielder for the Giants, and Bonds was the highest paid free agent at the time, rocking a six-year, $43.75 million contract. That’s a steal, if you ask me. I know it was the ’90s, but that’s an AAV of just over $7 million a year! That’s how much Isiah Kiner-Falefa is getting paid this year. Anthony Rendon is making $40 million just this year to hate playing baseball and avoid doing it at all costs. 

*But they also name-drop Barry Bonds in the movie, so he actually exists in this world. But he doesn’t seem to be playing for the Giants because the left-fielder is played by Benicio del Toro. Did they trade him? Where to? Does he go on to break the home run record? This is Tarantino levels of revisionist history, if you ask me. 

They also sign John Kruk, but he’s not John Kruk. He’s called Lanz. But he’s played by John Kruk and he looks exactly like John Kruk, so it’s incredibly distracting. 

Rayburn’s agent is played by John Leguizamo, who must not have any other clients because he’s always hanging around Rayburn. He drives him around, advises the team trainers, and even fields all of his phone calls. You see, San Francisco has a sports talk radio show hosted by Ellen Barkin, who seems to be on the air 24 hours a day. She has her radio technician (a young Jack Black) call up players directly (he gets through every time). Being the talk of the town, Rayburn is on the show every day. So I guess that’s why Leguizamo’s always around. Public relations. 

Gil, being the obsessive that he is, constantly calls in himself and gets to chat with Rayburn pretty regularly. When Rayburn gets off to a slow start and the city bemoans the wasted money, Gil stands by him. He calls in just to cheer him up. Gil’s life is going to hell. His creepiness is causing issues at work (he tries to sell knives by showing how easily he can shave his arm hair, but nobody uses knives for that purpose) and his obsession with baseball and not being mentally stable has caused his ex-wife to leave him and take their kid – but it doesn’t matter because Rayburn is more important to him.

Rayburn attributes his slow start to the fact that he hasn’t been able to wear his regular uniform number since coming over from Atlanta. He’s been number 11 his whole career, but incumbent Giants star left-fielder Benicio del Toro already had number 11. They can’t come to an agreement, monetarily or otherwise, to pass the number on to Rayburn. So del Toro keeps wearing it while Rayburn opts for number 33, hoping it will bring him 3x the success. It brings him none of the success though, and del Toro gets off to a blazing start because he’s wearing it. Rayburn gets so desperate that he starts wearing his old Braves jerseys under his Giants jerseys. Apparently nobody in the clubhouse notices that he’s doing this. Or they don’t care. I find both unlikely. 

But Gil knows that Rayburn needs that number. You can guess where things go from there, especially if you’ve seen any other Tony Scott movie. Or The King of Comedy. De Niro is just playing Rupert Pupkin again. 

There’s a lot that the movie is trying to say about the deification of athletes and toxic fandom and parasocial relationships and mental health and obsession and terrible ’90s fashion (De Niro wears the craziest printed parachute pants), but it all gets muddled in the details. By and large, the film is just a Scorsese riff (complete with a Rolling Stones needle drop!), an action thriller of the Scott variety. I dare anyone to watch this film’s blockbuster rain-soaked climax and think “Wow, this movie has so much to say about a fan’s unhealthy relationship with the sports industrial complex!” No. You will not think that. You will think “None of this makes any sense! This movie sucks!” And you’d be right. And that’s why it’s awesome

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