14 posts categorized "sports"


Gimme that ol' time religion, a new putter

In a perfect cinematic world, a utopia, if you will, a wise, world-weary Robert Duvall on a horse would be quite enough to ignite dramatic sparks.

Utopia, however, is imagined perfection; an unobtainable, if noble, pilgrimage to a non-existent place.

"Seven Days in Utopia," lensed in the real Texas Hill Country hamlet of Utopia (85 miles northwest of San Antonio), features a somewhat real-life world-weary Duvall on a horse.  

Unfortunately, that is not enough to provide inspirational, not to mention entertaining, cinema.

Based on David Cook's book "Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia," the big-screen version is a warm-hearted call to religion with professional golf and the sleepy Texas Hill Country as a backdrop.

It plays like an uneasy mixture of "Tin Cup," which featured Kevin Costner as an imploding golfer on tour, "The Karate Kid" and summer Bible school at the First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX, which I attended in my youth.

Lucas Black, reuniting with Duvall after sharing the screen in "Sling Blade" and "Get Low," portrays troubled golfer Luke Chisholm.

There is no gospel, according to Luke.

Browbeaten by his father into becoming the next young sensation on the pro golf tour no matter what, the Waco native has a meltdown on the course, breaks his putter over his knee and drives off to somewhere, anywhere to heal his deep emotional wounds.

Quite by chance, it would seem, he winds up in Utopia, TX.  Johnny Crawford, not the actor-singer who played "The Rifleman's" son on TV in the late '50s-early '60s, but a beloved town character played by Duvall, takes the young man under his wing.  

Seeing something of himself in Luke, Johnny offers to teach the lost soul in golf spikes the proper way to play golf in a week.  He also tosses in how to get your head right and how to make the Bible a companion and life guide, although the life lessons come semi-stealthly and as an added bonus.

"Seven Days in Utopia" would work better as a G-rated golf ball swatter, Bible-thumper if an experienced director, like Duvall, for instance, took on added duties as director.  Duvall directed himself to a best actor Oscar nomination in 1997 as a Texas preacher in "The Apostle."

First-timer Matt Russell, a visual effects coordinator sliding into the directing chair, appears more concerned with how things look (and there are some gorgeous shots) than how flat and hokey scenes are playing.

Duvall is fine, although uninspired, in a role he could play in his sleep.

Co-star Black, though, acts like he is sleep-walking much of the time.  If Black has another facial expression other than the stone-faced one on display throughout here, I'd love to see it.
Some will call "Seven Days in Utopia" sentimental hokum that means well and speaks from the heart, but -- like the lightning bugs trapped in a jar in a slightly strained life lesson scene -- fails to ignite into memorable cinema.

I, unfortunately, am among those naysayers.

From this aisle seat, this is a difficult stance to take for three reasons.

(1) Duvall has deeply moved me emotionally and intellectually throughout much of my 31-year career as a film critic.  I will never forget Duvall's broken-down country-singer/songwriter Mac Sledge in "Tender Mercies" (1983).  Sledge convinced me when he said, "I don't trust happiness.  I never did, I never will."

(2)  This is a small-budget film obviously made with a lot of love for God, film making and the Texas Hill Country.

(3)  After over three decades offering my opinion on movies to anyone who would listen, read or watch, this is my final review of a debuting film.

(More on that to come soon.)


How I know about 'How Do You Know'

James L. Brooks won an Academy Award directing Jack Nicholson in Best Picture Oscar winner "Terms of Endearment" in 1983.

Despite reuniting with Nicholson and teaming the perennial movie star with Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, "How Do You Know" is like a simmering stew with fine cuts of beef and excellent vegetables, but no seasoning.

In other words, "How Do You Know" is bland, bland, bland and definitely not up to Brooks' legendary standards as writer-director.

How do I know?  Nicholson -- Yes, the Jack Nicholson -- is a bore in this offbeat romantic-comedy about four people grinding through transition in their lives.  

Let me tell you something.  When Jack Nicholson can't find a way to keep you engaged, there's something terribly wrong.

Witherspoon, an Oscar winner herself for channeling June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line," is at the center of this sluggish emotional whirling dervish that kicks up very little entertainment dust.

An aging former softball sensation at 31, Lisa (Witherspoon) is strapped emotionally when she's cut from the national team.  So what does she do?  She falls for Matty (Wilson), a self-centered, mini-skirt chasing relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals.

Brooks' plot wanders seriously off base, even for a feature film romantic-comedy contrivance.  Lisa accidentally becomes tangled with George (Rudd), an honest businessman who just happens to be under federal scrutiny.

I think if George were crooked as Wilson's nose, "How Do You Know" would be more fun.  Instead, it's George's old man (Nicholson) who's dirty.

So the dilemma that greases the plot machine is whether George will take the fall for dad and serve prison time and, of course, which man Lisa will choose.

"How Do You Know" sounds more intriguing than it really is.  This is a film that sputters along so lackadaisically that you'll have plenty time to think about last minute holiday shopping without missing much.

Well-orchestrated character driven comedies or comic-dramas (and Brooks has made a few) don't allow daydream time between opening and closing credits.

That's how I know it's OK to skip this one.


And ... 'Secretariat' is just a little off

A horse movie is a horse movie, of course, of course.

Unless it's "Seabiscuit," the seven-Oscar nominee of 2003, which, unfortunately, "Secretariat" is not.

The latest race around the track may be about a supremely gifted horse that defied the odds to win the much-coveted Triple Crown in 1973.  But "Secretariat," though heartfelt and well-acted in some quarters, is overly theatrical at times even for a Cinderella story.

Filmmakers have choices to make when they glorify real-life triumphs for movie audiences.  The creative challenge is to raise the audience's emotional pulse with larger-than-life moments that feel real, or are at least close enough that we can pretend they're sort of real.

In this third outing in the director's chair,  TV writer/producer Randall Wallace ("We Were Soldiers," "The Man in the Iron Mask") fails to corral the over-the-top fairy tale-like emotions at times.

Diane Lane, the fine actress nominated for an Academy Award as the title character in "Unfaithful" (2002), puts on a stern face to portray Denver housewife and mother Penny Chenery Tweedy.

Unwavering in her determination to make her ill father (Scott Glenn) proud as his health steadily fades, Penny abandons her own family in 1969 to shepherd a family horse farm  in Virginia in general and a glistening colt she calls Big Red in particular.

The world will see Red as Secretariat, which scribes at the time and history later dub "superhorse."

John Malkovich, one of the finest actors working, takes on the dubious task and outlandish wardrobe of fiery trainer Lucien Laurin.  Malkovich's hats are so garish in this historical horse opera that I wouldn't be surprised if the two-time Oscar nominee ("In the Line of Fire," "Places in the Heart") didn't request to keep his wardrobe solely for the purpose of burning it.

Even excellent actors can be saddled with lines that fall below their ability to recite them.  Sadly, that's the case here.  "Secretariat" screenwriter Mike Rich, using William Nack's book "Secretariat:  The Making of a Champion" as a "suggestion," had better luck scripting "The Rookie," another real-life sports drama in 2002.

"Secretariat" is not without merit.  It's beautiful to look at in spurts, for instance.  And the five horses that stomp the turf for Big Red all bring honor to a great slice of American history that, unfortunately, is too well known to thunder to the cinematic finish line with the desired lump-in-the-throat dramatic effect.

But what the hay, it's entertainment, right?


Inspirational hokum not quite 'Legendary'

Harmless inspirational hokum, "Legendary" attempts to fill a non-existent void of "you-can-beat-the-odds" entertainment vehicles like the two "Karate Kid" franchises, "Rudy," and, more recently, "The Blind Side."

Former WWE wrestling star John Cena takes on the mentor role, the Mr. Miyagi part, if you will, as Mike Chetley.  The elder Chetley is a former All American high school wrestler who has brute forced his way into trouble and away from his family for the past 10 years.

Now it's younger brother Cal's chance to take up the sport of wrestling to fend off neighborhood bullies, much to the disapproval of his widowed mom Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), who has her reasons to object.

Unfortunately, there's nothing really special about "Legendary."  Using a basic template with no real creative shadings, TV director/producer Mel Damski ("Psyche" on the USA cable channel) lets screenwriter John Posey's heart-warmer play out in a manner that'll surprise no regular movie-goers.

A tip of the hat to Damski for getting outstanding actress Clarkson ("Shutter Island," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona")), an Oscar nominee for "Pieces of April" in 2003, to join the pity party, though.

The mom role provides a couple of decent showcases for Clarkson, who -- through no fault of her own -- dominates every scene she's in.  And Danny Glover is an OK touch as narrator and a man who keeps showing up with the kid runs out of mentors.

Up-and-comer Devon Graye, the title character in Showtime's "Dexter," looks and acts a little like a demure John-Boy of the vintage 1970s TV series "The Waltons."

Cena, who thankfully doesn't get star billing over Clarkson, comes across as, well, a former wrestling star looking for a new, perhaps less bruising line of work.

Hey, don't scoff.  That plan worked out pretty well for The Rock.


'Perfect Game' pitches near-perfect on screen

"The Perfect Game," a little gem of a stand-up-and-cheer baseball movie, was almost shut-out before it ever made the big screen.

On the shelf, or should we say the bench, for well over a year, this is a must-see for anyone who loves baseball or just enjoys a solid tug on the heartstrings.

In a perfect world, "The Perfect Game" would be assigned enjoyment for every Little League team member, coach and parent around the globe. For those who don't enjoy the game of baseball, the family friendly entertainment scores with a mix of life lessons about tolerance and respect for all humans.

A note from this aisle seat:  I consider myself a pretty serious baseball fan.  Yet I had never heard the emotional story of a rag-tag team of Little Leaguers from Monterrey, Mexico that forms the foundation of this story.

In 1957, they walked 10 miles in 110-degree heat from the U.S.-Mexican border to McAllen, TX to play their first Little League game north of their home country .  For many -- perhaps all -- of the 10-12-year-old players, it wasn't just their first glimpse of El Norte.  It was also the first time the team that had to clear rocks to play ball on a makeshift dirt field ever got to play on grass.

The screenplay by W. William Winokur, working from his own book of 2008, while a little cheesy at times, grabs the heart early and begins a serious emotional squeeze play.

The actor most will recognize first is veteran comedian/actor Cheech Marin.  Marin sinks his acting soul into the role of Padre Esteban, the priest who loves baseball almost as much as his first calling.  San Antonio native Bruce McGill ("W.," "The Lookout") and Lou Gossett ("Jasper, Texas") add credence to small featured roles.

Of the adult actors, however, it's front-liners Clifton Collins Jr. and Emilie de Ravin ("Lost" on TV) who knock performances out of the park.  Collins ("Extract," the "Star Trek" remake), turned heads in the industry opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman as Perry Smith in "Capote" (2005).

Collins is strong here as well as Cesar Faz, the Mexican steel worker who once had hopes of coaching in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but was tagged out by the 1950s color barrier.  Though reluctant at first, Cesar becomes the Little League coach, and pushes his players beyond expectations with fundamentals, hustle and heart.

De Ravin is all over the role of a spunky McAllen newspaper reporter who follows the team and records the story.

Several of the young cast members who make up the scrappy little Monterrey Industrials are standouts as well.  Jake T. Austin ("Hotel for Dogs") will melt your heart as Angel, the ambidextrous pitcher verbally abused at home by a stern, grieving dad.

I was also very entertained by New York native Moises Arias (Rico on "Hannah Montana") as Mario, the team's little ladies man who serves as effective comic relief.

My only foul-ball complaint for veteran baseball movie director William Dear ("Angels in the Outfield") is that this film which takes place much of the time in Texas was shot in Los Angeles.  The dead giveaway comes when someone in the film calls a team from the Rio Grande Valley town of Weslaco "Wes-layco."

That's the only error in "The Perfect Game," a walk away winner that no baseball fan or Little Leaguer should miss.


Got kids? You can handle the 'Tooth'

I never saw Dwayne Johnson play football as a defensive lineman for the U of Miami, or greased-up and getting it done as WWE wrestling star The Rock.

I know this, though, Johnson is one fearless son of a gun in front of a movie camera.

We know now that spectacle wrestling is fake, or at the very least, orchestrated.  Comedy, however, is real, and really hard to pull off.

"Tooth Fairy" is just the latest example that the guy is willing to do anything to make a movie audience laugh.

My favorite Johnson performance came in the little seen "Be Cool," the 2005 sequel to "Get Shorty," where he played a gay, lisping bodyguard.

Since then Johnson has hammed it up in the remake  of "The Race to Witch Mountain" and played an egomaniac NFL quarterback whose life is turned upside down when an unexpected young daughter appears out of his freewheeling past ("The Game Plan").

"Tooth Fairy" takes Johnson back into a sports arena and, we should add, into a pink tutu while sporting feathery Tooth Fairy wings.

Derek Thompson (Johnson), a Michigan minor league hockey player with a bum shoulder and a bum attitude, is summoned to serve Tooth Fairy duty after quashing a kid's dream of playing in the NHL someday.

A reluctant sprite at best, Derek bungles Tooth Fairy duty at first.  The pink tutu was a Fairyland wardrobe malfunction.  So that's fixed, but Derek still has a little problem using too much amnesia dust, etc. on his way to learning some important life lessons.  He gets those from his guide fairy Tracy (British actor Stephen Merchant) and Lily, the Chief Tooth Fairy portrayed with some verve by Julie Andrews.

Written by a committee of six (usually a very bad sign), "Tooth Fairy" is about as silly as family comic fantasy comes.  Director Michael Lembeck, who was at the helm of the second and third "Santa Clause" comedies, somehow pulls it all together enough to provide a fun comic romp much of the time.

Johnson, who smiles too broadly and too often to really score as a comic actor, does anyway.  Go figure.  Ashley Judd's smile as Derek's girlfriend Carly looks forced, unfortunately.  Judd (Where's she been?) appears to just be going through the motions at times.

Actually, Billy Crystal, who plays Fairyland gadget guru Jerry, is the funniest cast member.  Oddly, though, Crystal is mentioned nowhere in the film's credits or press notes.  Odder still, Crystal dropped by NBC''s "Jay Leno Show" on Thursday night to promote the film.

Oddest (Is that a word?) of all, however, is that I had a semi-severe toothache when I attended the preview screening of "Tooth Fairy."

But this is not about me.  If you have kids who are young enough to still enjoy hanging out with, you know, parents, load 'em up and check out "Tooth Fairy."  You'll have some real family fun together.

And my toothache?  It's much better, thank you.

(OK, it's about me a little.)


'Invictus': It's got game, needs more Mandela

Noble and well acted, "Invictus" is the captain of its creative soul.

Perhaps a co-captain was in order.

Surprisingly, to me at least, director Clint Eastwood devotes long periods of valuable screen time focusing on the grunts and dropkicks of rugby while  Morgan Freeman, as revered South African leader Nelson Mandela, wagers a case of wine with his New Zealand counterpart up in the stands.

"Invictus" is a good film.  In fact, it excels at times.  It barely scratches the surface when it comes to fertile Mandela history, however.  After all, this is the man who spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid.

When he was elected president a few years later in 1994, Mandela worked tirelessly to unite a bitterly divided country. He didn't just fight to soothe the ravaged souls of the overwhelming black majority, either.   Mandela forgave the whites, who locked him away for the best years of his life.

From this aisle seat, I just didn't expect Eastwood to use the weary Big Game crutch to tell this story.  While heartfelt, it  lacks character depth.  Expect to learn as much about the president's body guards as the leader himself, for instance.

Freeman, who has teamed with Eastwood the director twice before ("Million Dollar Baby," "Unforgiven"), has been working to portray Mandela for years.  According to written reports, Freeman favored "A Long Walk to Freedom," Mandela's autobiography.

Eastwood and South African screenwriter Anthony Peckham take the shorter stroll, using a screenplay based on John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy."  That turns the focus to rugby, a sport arguably less known in this country than soccer.  It also calls for a co-leading man.

Although his South African accent wobbles as much as the ball sailing through the goal posts, Matt Damon ("The Informant!") is believable enough as Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa's underdog Springboks.  

Mandela's goal is to unite his nation through sport.  So over tea in the presidential office, the South African leader urges Pienaar to win one not for the Gipper, but for a nation that might just come together if things work out right in the World Cup winner's bracket of 1995.

In the most touching moments of "Invictus," Mandela recites lines from William Ernest Henley's poem that inspired the future leader to survive almost three decades of confinement.

"I am the master of my fate:

"I am the captain of my soul."

I can find no fault in Freeman's performance.  The Academy Award winner under Eastwood's tutelage in "Million Dollar Baby" captivates as usual.  That's one of the reasons "Invictus" as it stands is still a worthy effort despite its narrow story focus.

Eastwood, known for working fast -- a take or two will usually do -- and moving on, is to be credited for accurately capturing a key moment in South African sports.  "Invictus" was shot entirely on location in and around the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa and it shows.

As Eastwood's camera took a bus ride with the rugby team on a day trip to inspire the impoverished local kids, though, I couldn't help wondering what Mandela was up to that day.


A 'Blind Side' Hail Mary pass

The exciting thing about "The Blind Side" is that for the first time since the ensemble drama "Crash" Sandra Bullock molds her persona to fit a character.

More often than not, forgettable cinematic silliness such as the "Miss Congeniality" films and "The Lake House" and, more recently, the awful "All About Steve" have been all about Sandra Bullock, the lovable kook next door.

A bristling family comic sports drama dripping with Southern pride and discomfort, "The Blind Side" throws a Hail Mary pass at the Bullock we rarely see on screen.

John Lee Hancock,  the talented filmmaker behind the noble box-office failure "The Alamo" (2004), scores by forming the most genuine sports related project since, well, Hancock's "The Rookie" starring Dennis Quaid in 2002.

This one works to near-perfection primarily because Bullock is all-business instead of kooky-funny for a change.

Of course Bullock retreated into ice queen frostiness for the highly successful romantic-comedy "The Proposal" back in June.  But that was just a shell that cracked when the goofiness launched.

"The Blind Side" is based on a real well-to-do Memphis family.  They, guided sternly by the Mrs. (Bullock), take in a very large and virtually homeless black high school student (Quinton Aaron).  The uplifting tale of a shy big guy with football and a loving safe residence in his future forms the heart of this story.

Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy supplies the engine to motivate a troubled young man named Michael Oher without once talking down to him.  Hancock, proving once again how astute he can be mixing real life sports sagas into mass-appeal entertainment, lets the comedy of his script (based on Michael Lewis' book) flow naturally.

The funny moments -- and there are quite a few -- never appear forced.  Tim McGraw, terrific in the big-screen version of "Friday Night Lights," is very good here as Sean, Bullock's husband.  No doubt about it, McGraw could make a very good living as as an actor if he every grows weary of that superstar country singer night job.

And young Jae Head, who has appeared on the TV version of "Friday Night Lights," turns out to be quite a  funny little scene stealer as SJ, the precocious Tuohy son. 

As Michael, Aaron, a New York based actor ("Be Kind Rewind," "Fighting"), moves into the spotlight with much of the same effectiveness newcomer Gabourey Sidibe brings to the gritty urban drama "Precious."

Shot in Atlanta (doubling for Memphis), "The Blind Side" isn't just one of the finest sports-related movies of '09, it's one of the most entertaining films overall.

The Oscar campaign has already begun for Bullock.  From this aisle seat, it would be a well-deserved Academy Award nomination if it comes.


That's just how director Barrymore rolls

"Whip It" is Drew Barrymore's stance on women's empowerment, mother-daughter understanding, roller derby and bruised behinds.

Set in the world of roller derby, a sport, of sorts, rolling along as modernized retro brutality on wheels, Barrymore's feature film directing debut bears more broad punch than artistic skill and delicate touch.

It's almost as if someone told Barrymore, "OK, here's a camera.  We want something like Girls Gone Wild, but clean it up a little."  Attractive, but rough-talking girls in skimpy outfits and tattoos elbowing each other over the rail as beer-swilling men whoop it up in the audience fits the bill well enough. 
What's lacking here, though, is that undefinable magical element that percolates in truly memorable films.

Throw in Oscar nominee Ellen Page of "Juno" fame as a small-town high school student who can't stand her mom's (Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) insistence that she follow in her beauty queen pageant high-heel steps and you've got "Whip It," an odd cinematic duck at best.

Yet there's something to be said for Barrymore's sheer staying power.  The perpetually energetic (at least in public) and genuinely talented torch bearer of the multi-generational Barrymore acting clan has survived in a profession that has gobbled up and spit out many of her peers.  More than a few got a taste of the limelight young, then -- like a moth drawn to the flame -- self-destructed in the harsh spotlight that revealed their talent in the first place.

As much as anything else, "Whip It" is a deserved chance for the adult Barrymore, who sprang into show business in a closet surrounded by stuffed toys and screaming at Steven Spielberg's alien "E.T.," to raise her fist in the air and proclaim, "I've come a long way, baby!"

Judged purely on the level of entertainment, though, "Whip It" is a noble, if rather sophomoric attempt to bond a very different mother and daughter in front of a faux Austin, Texas backdrop.

Lensed in the Detroit area and not the Lone Star State, "Whip It" is based on screenwriter Shauna Cross's semi-autobiographical novel of 2007.  It combines Barrymore's three fave genres; action, comedy and family drama.

No one will say that Barrymore's actors don't give it their acting, jamming, hip-checking all.  My favorites are the leaders of the eight-wheeled packs.  "Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig ("Extract") really gets under the empathetic skin of Maggie Mayhem, captain of the Hurl Scouts.  (Barrymore mounts skates for them when she's not behind the camera.)

The finest performance, however, comes from Juliette Lewis, an Academy Award nominee for the 1991 "Cape Fear" remake.  She's Iron Maven, the tough-as-nails captain of the rival Holy Rollers.

Page turns in some effective screen moments with Harden (who's always magnificent).  Page's smart, curious teen goes from street skating in pink Barbie wheels to jumping over downed jammers on the derby track.  It's hardly an acting stretch after "Juno," but Page makes the most of yet another role as a witty, perplexed teen trying to find herself and her place in the world.

As much as I love Page's roller derby name, Babe Ruthless, however, Barrymore is the one who truly deserves that label.  


A Monday morning quarterback sneak

Before Robert Siegel wrote the screenplay for "The Wrestler," which drew an Oscar nomination for Mickey Rourke, the native New Yorker chronicled the life of another complex everyman named Paul Aufiero.

Success opens doors.  So Siegel not only brings Aufiero's fictional story to the screen with "Big Fan," he directs this sad-sack drama as well.  "Big Fan" isn't likely to have the emotional or box-office impact of "The Wrestler," but it ranks pretty close when it comes to getting under the skin of a "loser" (to some) who only wants to be left alone to enjoy his little cubicle of weirdness.

"Paul from Staten Island," as Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is known on fictional Big Apple sports radio station 760 The Zone, takes his self-proclaimed role as New York Giants' biggest fan very seriously.

He's 35, works as a distracted parking garage attendant and lives at home with his scowling mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz).  One of the things I admire about Siegel's screenplay is the ease in which he makes it obvious that Mom constantly berates Paul because he calls a radio station late at night, and because he doesn't date or have a family like his ambulance-chasing attorney brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli).

Her real underlying fear, however, might be that her son has found his own kind of happiness in a world that can be harsh.  It's obvious she has not.

Anyone who saw "The Wrestler" knows Siegel shows little interest in those the world generally considers winners.  Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson was long past his prime and living out of his van much of the time when we caught up with him.  Paul and his worshipful pal (and perhaps only friend) Sal (Kevin Corrigan of "Pineapple Express") can't even afford to attend the Giants games they so adore.

So they drive out to Giants Stadium and watch the game from the parking lot on a little TV rigged to the battery of Paul's car.

When fate puts Paul and Sal in the same Manhattan strip club as Paul's hero, fictional Giants' All-Pro linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), fan worship mixes with alcohol and accusations of stalking.  Paul is beaten into a pulp by his hero.

Much of "Big Fan" deals with what happens next.  When Paul wakes up in the hospital after being unconscious for 72 hours, he has two questions.  What day is it? and Who won Sunday's game?

Paul's leering lawyer brother wants to sue for millions, of course.  The police want answers about "what went down." And Bishop's career -- not to mention the Giants season -- hangs in the balance.

In addition to a fine journeyman performance by Oswalt (Spence on TV's "The King of Queens" for almost a decade) in his first feature lead role, Corrigan hits all the right notes as Sal, the adoring buddy.

Michael Rapaport, who appeared to be headed for stardom after Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995) but has all but disappeared from the limelight, serves up some strong moments near the end.  He's the body attached to the voice of Philadelphia Phil, the Eagles fanatic.

Siegel spent many late-night hours in bed years ago listening to colorful, obsessed regular (or should we say "irregular") callers rant about their favorite teams and players.  He always wondered what kind of lives those people led.  

With "Big Fan," he articulates in bleak tones not only their fantasies, but perhaps his as well.