When it comes to the man who is the focus and target for Renard's obsessions -- Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), superstar slugger for the Giants (in the book, for the Red Sox) -- the moviemakers are content to cobble together a more or less likable glamour-puss caught short and humanized by the only slump in his life. It's all in vain. The view of the film remains cynical and joyless, with fan Renard going nuts by living in a field of dreams and star Rayburn looking out for No. 1 (his son's a close No. 2), as any celebrity should. The "normal" fans are casually vicious, and Rayburn's teammates are surly and cliquish. What was Cal Ripken Jr. thinking when he signed on as a consultant? And what could he have taught the filmmakers about baseball or professionalism? This movie depicts incompetence and is incompetent; it portrays the overkill of pro sports with its own hideous hyperbole.
Not even William Bendix's Babe Ruth movie, or John Goodman's, has baseball scenes as clumsy and ineffectual as these. You can't tell whether Rayburn is hitting pop-ups or home runs. Scott's TV-ad-derived style of quick or jolting cutting and fancy lighting, which worked for him in high-tech testosterone spectacles like Top Gun, proves impotent in the sports arena (as it did in Days of Thunder) and in the realm of low-tech thrills where simple chronology and coherence matter. In this film, you see a puppy in the spring become a full-grown dog by midsummer; you hear about Rayburn granting an exclusive interview to the film's own Fabulous Sports Babe (Ellen Barkin) and then can't be sure it's taken place. Vignettes that should provide a humorous or emotional fillip -- like a Hasidic Jew cradling a Chihuahua and passing Renard's room as the madman tosses a hunting knife at the door -- just lie there on the screen, inert, opaque, and embarrassing. (Is the combination of a Hasid and a Chihuahua considered inherently funny?) What's more astonishing is that in several crucial scenes an audience can't tell what's going on. The initial murder plays like a dream sequence, and the climactic catastrophe is impossible to parse, though it's played out simultaneously on the field and on the Jumbotron. This movie proves that a hyperactive directorial approach can actually clog up the action.
Scott doesn't know how to impart the passing of real time to the narrative, so he strands the actors in an eternal and interminable present. Barkin and John Leguizamo (as Rayburn's agent) at least bring some snap to their bad lines. For much of the way, Snipes seems drab and mopey, as alienated from his character as his character is from his profession. And De Niro blows up like clockwork, a virtue only in a geyser. Midway through the book, Rayburn's agent watches his client do a headache pain commercial and says, "De Niro couldn't have done it any better." It's a good thing he hadn't seen the movie.
Freeway opens Friday, Aug. 23, at the Roxie. The Fan continues at area theaters.
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