- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2009

Ever listen to one of those sports-talk call-in shows? You know, the ones that give airtime to random fans who rant and rave about their favorite teams, making sure to proclaim their club’s greatness or slag on the general manager for signing some washed-up has-been to play quarterback?

Ever wonder what those chumps are like at home?

Meet Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), the protagonist of “Big Fan.” He’s an obsessive New York Giants fan, the kind of guy who will call up an AM talker to rebut the rantings of Philadelphia Phil, a die-hard Eagles fan hellbent on making the lives of Giants fans miserable. The kind of guy who will go and tailgate outside the Meadowlands even though he doesn’t have tickets to the game.

The kind of guy who will, upon seeing his favorite Giant at a gas station, follow him around Staten Island, through the ‘hood, onto the isle of Manhattan and into a high-class strip club just so he can say hi. The consequences of this stalkerish night on the town make up the bulk of the film.

Mr. Oswalt is perfectly suited for the role: shlubby and dressed like a homeless person, he plays Paul with an attitude that alternates between piteous and maniacal. His Paul is awkward and uncomfortable, crippled by his superfandom and unable to relate to the rest of the world around him.

But his awkwardness is never endearing or amusing, like that of the loners who populate films such as “Napoleon Dynamite”; rather, it’s sad, pathetic and, as the movie progresses, at least a little frightening.

Paul spends his days at work manning the booth of a parking garage all on his lonesome, all the better to compose pro-Giant screeds in a childish-looking longhand that will be read over the air and grant him a brief moment of recognition in a world that otherwise despises him. The only real relationship Paul has is with his fellow superfan and talk-radio listener, Sal (Kevin Corrigan).

It’s almost difficult to watch Paul go about his miserable little life. The sort of character study “Big Fan” hopes to be can be intensely satisfying with the right material — consider “The Wrestler,” which was written by Robert Siegel (who wrote and directed “Big Fan”) — but this isn’t that material. It’s impossible to connect or sympathize with Paul. Even huge sports fans who obsessively follow their favorite teams will be put off by his generally creepy demeanor.

Though there are moments of comedy, Paul’s abrasiveness makes it too hard to give oneself over to the humor and accept it on its own terms. It doesn’t help that the movie’s climax is both ridiculous and unfunny — a deadly combination. As good as Mr. Oswalt and Mr. Corrigan are, their performances can’t make up for the poor material.

★★

TITLE: “Big Fan”

RATING: R (language and some sexuality)

CREDITS: written and directed by Robert Siegel

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

WEB SITE: www.bigfanmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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