Any night with Wesley Snipes is a good night
Mill Creek Entertainment does a fair amount of these types of double feature home video releases, with a couple titles featuring the same star on one disc with a bare bones menu and zero double features. That’s exactly what you’re getting here with this latest Mill Creek release featuring a couple of Wesley Snipes titles that have virtually nothing in common with one another at all besides Mr. Snipes. Neither film is a homerun, if you will, but I’d never seen either title before and as an active Wesley Snipes fan, this felt like an ideal opportunity to double feature these titles whilst on a nationwide COVID-19 voluntary quarantine. You’re going to get a couple of Wesley Snipes movies here, both on Blu-ray and on DVD. That’s it. Each film has its moments, so read on!
The Fan (1996)
Many will remember this one as it played to a wide theatrical release and came out between Demolition Man and Blade… so it’s pretty much peak Wesley Snipes era. What I didn’t personally remember at all until the film was playing before my eyeballs is that none other than Tony Scott directed this. And those are all the ingredients you need to know to make it worth checking out The Fan. You’ve got peak Wesley Snipes and the ever aesthetically pleasing Tony Scott behind the camera, so therefore you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
The set up here is very much a kind of Cape Fear lite with Robert De Niro playing a genuine, fleshed out character who is going to eventually devolve into a frothing mad stalker of Wesley Snipes’ pro baseball star Bobby Rayburn. It’s not as though the beat by beat plot points are the same as Cape Fear, but it feels like extremely similar territory for De Niro. Of course, De Niro is great and brings his A game to the role. But The Fan is kind of underwritten and never really rises to any kind of greatness as a stalker thriller. There’s a lot here to pique your interest and keep you watching, but it never soars into the bleachers.
Tony Scott’s energetic direction is the outstanding element of The Fan. The guy just makes this otherwise standard fare really pop. And as with much of his oeuvre, he visually grabs you right from the start and never lets go. The movie just looks and feels propulsive and menacing and Mill Creek’s Blu-ray does a solid job of conveying that vibe to your tv screen. It’s a San Francisco movie, with The Giants being the team Rayburn has recently signed to with an outrageous (for 1996) $40 million contract. So you do get some classic San Francisco visuals delivered right to you from Mr. Scott.
The cast would be the other big standout making The Fan worth a watch. Snipes is not playing a jacked action hero here. He’s a dramatic lead, with a son to care for and a career stalling out even as he reaches the heights of superstardom. De Niro’s Gil Renard is actually the main character, however. You split a lot of time between Gil and Bobby, with a fair amount of tension building and character development going on. When things finally do escalate to violence and tragedy, it actually feels a little bit heightened and detached from the human drama that had been playing out previously.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of The Fan is that, while it should feel fresh and relevant today with social media allowing for a culture of toxic fandom to have taken over pop culture, it really doesn’t offer much in the way of insight. Gil is just a tragic figure. A man pushed to the breaking point who let his obsessive tendencies win the day and veer him down a tragic path of violence. Meanwhile Snipes’ Bobby Rayburn spends most of the movie not even knowing Gil exists and repeatedly asking “what do you even want from me?” once they become locked in a third act battle. You can certainly feel echoes of relevance to today’s rampant fan entitlement problem, but nothing ever really incisive ends up being divined from The Fan’s fairly weak screenplay.
Beyond just Snipes and De Niro you’ve also got nice turns from Ellen Barkin and John Leguizamo, but while they do a lot with their limited screen time, neither character amounts to much and Barkin’s shock jock radio sports reporter gets totally sidelined by the end as just an observer, which is unfortunate.
The Fan has a lot going for it with a great cast and even better director. It goes down smooth and easy and offers few surprises. You’ve seen this movie before, and you’ll see it again, too. But never with quite this mixture of talent in the dugout, which earns it a mild recommendation.
The Contractor (2007)
I’m going to be honest. I popped this one in and watched it first, because this is exactly my kind of movie. I adore direct to video action cinema for some reason, and I’m not daunted at all when a project like this happens, later in a star’s career perhaps, at a fraction of the budget of the projects they did in their career peaks. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of films just like The Contractor.
It’s a pretty solid direct to video title on the spectrum of these types of things. It’s competently directed and written, tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end… and it lets Wesley Snipes be the badass leading man he is. The basics of filmmaking are all pretty much there. And trust me, this isn’t a given with DTV films of The Contractor’s ilk.
The problem with The Contractor is that it commits the cardinal sin of DTV action cinema: It’s boring.
Snipes stars as James Dial who is, oddly, not really a contractor at all. Rather, he’s a retired CIA operative who is given “one last chance” to kill the terrorist who had eluded him in a botched job that ended his career. Awesomely, Dial lives on a ranch in Montana, training horses. This kind of trope will never grow old, and Dial’s aloof badass vibe is perhaps the movie’s best character beat. Of course, the job goes south, Dial ends up on the run, and that’s when The Contractor commits its second unforgivable sin: It saddles Dial with a precocious kid sidekick. Fortunately actress Eliza Bennet actually fleshes out Emily quite well and that actress has gone on to work regularly, it appears. It’s just that this is an action movie trope that does get old with a quickness and didn’t help this film be any more thrilling. There’s never a moment where the action sequences surprise or stand out in any way. There’s no doubt whatsoever that Dial will turn the tables on those who are setting him up. Perhaps the film benefits from not making Dial some kind of super soldier, and focusing more on the human drama of an assassin on the run teaming up with a struggling teenaged girl. But it’s less fun with that approach.
Frequently DTV films like this one feature ONLY the star above the title in terms of recognizable actors, but The Contractor managed to roll the dice in 2007 and cast a remarkable pre-Game Of Thrones duo with Charles Dance playing an aging British investigator and Lena Headey playing his daughter (and also an investigator). That’s right, The Contractor brings us a pre-Game Of Thrones father/daughter Lannister reunion. It’s the most remarkable thing about the film here in 2020, and sadly neither character really has much to do as written, though those two actors obviously shine with their sub-optimal parts.
The Contractor is never remarkable, though it never dips into incompetence either. As Snipes is an innocent man on the run, you get a very “poor man’s U.S. Marshals” vibe while watching The Contractor. Which is unfortunate as U.S. Marshals was already a poor man’s The Fugitive. There’s little to recommend here beyond Snipes always being an enjoyable watch and the accidental casting coup of future Game Of Thrones stars in supporting rolls. I may have to revisit U.S. Marshals now, though, so The Contractor definitely inspired something within me.
And I’m Out.
The Fan / The Contractor double feature disc is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Mill Creek Entertainment.