Gil Renard (De Niro) is a down-on-his-luck, divorced knife salesman who worships his hometown San Francisco Giants, especially their latest acquisition, talented, yet arrogant and self-centered local hero Bobby Rayburn (Snipes). As the film progresses, Gil finds himself neglecting his responsibilities to his young son, his job, and ultimately his slipping sanity as he strives to get closer to Bobby. And it becomes apparent that Gil is willing to do anything for his baseball hero, only for him to be bitterly disappointed when Bobby's true attitude toward his fans is revealed.
Despite the presence of a big-name director, and two proven box-office draws in De Niro and Snipes, the film was a critical and commercial disappointment, with fans and critics either loving or hating De Niro's performance as Gil Renard, whom many felt drew inspiration from Michael Douglas' character in Falling Down and De Niro's much better-received role as a similarly unstable fan in The King of Comedy.
This film includes examples of the following tropes:
- Award-Bait Song: The film's closing ballad, "Letting Go", performed by Terence Trent D'Arby, which stands out in a soundtrack dominated by classic rock (The Rolling Stones, Santana, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) and modern rock (Nine Inch Nails).
- Believing Their Own Lies: Gil seems to honestly believe his own past as a potential baseball pro even though he never played past childhood.
- Blatant Lies: At the start of the movie, Bobby says that he's grateful for the support of the fans. In reality, he sees them as obsessive losers and geeks whom he owes nothing to.
- The Cameo:
- Jack Black as a broadcast technician.
- MLB superstar John Kruk as one of Bobby Rayburn's Giants teammates, who Gil stabs to death during the climax.
- Deadpan Snarker: Radio host Jewel Stern. Though it's not like Bobby's agent, Manny, doesn't try to match her snark-for-snark.
- Disproportionate Retribution: When Juan Primo refuses to give up his number for Bobby, Gil decides to take action by stalking Primo in the locker room and brutally murdering him, cutting out the number "11" that was tattooed on his shoulder.
- Dumb Jock: Bobby Rayburn. He has to ask his agent what the word "glitch" means.
- Fan Hater: Invoked in-universe. Bobby Rayburn doesn't likes his fans, considering them idiots in private. This backfires big time on him when loony (and criminally malevolent) fan Gil finds out.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Demonstrated early in the film even when he isn't raising his voice. Unhappy that a potential client has shown no interest in the knives Gil is selling (because he's watching security cam footage of a female customer and, more importantly, he's already signed an exclusive contract with a competitor), Gil starts cussing him out.
- Hope Spot: With the rain pouring down and a good chance of the game getting called, Bobby Rayburn scores an amazing inside-the-park home run, ostensibly saving him from the crazed Gil. Unfortunately, the umpire calls him out at home plate, a seemingly BS call, until it becomes obvious that it's actually Gil in disguise.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: Gil often references a past playing baseball and it's clear he's compensating for his own failed dreams by living vicariously through Bobby. It's later revealed that he never played baseball in any capacity beyond little league.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He may be an arrogant, fan-hating prick who thinks he's God's gift to baseball, but Bobby clearly loves and cares for his son.
- Knife Nut: Gil. Interestingly enough, most of the reason he's a knife nut is because it was the way he made a living — he was a knife salesman for a company founded and formerly owned by his father until he pushed his anger too far with a customer.
- Loony Fan: Gil. It is pretty clear from the get-go that baseball is more important to him than anything else, even work and his own family. And when the player that he was putting all of his hopes on to make his team shine turns out to be a jackass and apparently going through a bad luck streak, then things get truly ugly.
- Meaningful Name: Juan Primo. He sees himself, and not new acquisition/local hero Bobby, as the number one guy on the Giants. While he's a Hispanic player played by a Hispanic actor (Benicio Del Toro), "primo" is Italian for "first," and Juan is a homophone of the number one.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Many have suggested that Bobby Rayburn is an Expy of a real-life Bay Area native who happened to be playing for the hometown Giants at the time of the film future home run king Barry Bonds. This is lampshaded in the scene where Gil, after finally meeting Bobby, feigns ignorance of baseball and guesses that the man whose son he just saved from drowning is Barry Bonds.
- Papa Wolf: Bobby goes all-out when his son is taken by Gil, doing a hell of a home run because that's what Gil asked him to in order to let his son go, and triggering a riot when he attacks the umpire that called the home run out (actually Gil in disguise).
- Parental Neglect: Gil is this way toward his young son, Richie. Despite Richie not being as obsessed over baseball as his dad is, Gil insists on taking him along to opening day, where he promptly leaves him by himself, panicked and afraid, so he can chase after the big-money client he was supposed to meet in the first place. Clearly, everything comes behind baseball when it comes to Gil's priorities, even his own child.
- Taking You with Me: During the climax, Gil attempts this against Bobby, having seen his plans all but ruined. He considers ending his own life in an attempt to break Bobby (via refusing to give up his son's location), then attempts to throw the knife at him, under the guise of showing him "my best pitch". The cops gun him down before he can throw the knife.
- Villain Protagonist: Gil Renard is a classic example of this trope. Initially depicted as a flawed human being who happens to love his home team too much, Gil soon descends into all-out insanity as he loses his job and shows how far he's willing to go to endear himself to Bobby. This includes brutally murdering Bobby's similarly-cocky teammate, Juan Primo, so Bobby can get to use his usual number, and eventually reaching the point where he kidnaps Bobby's young son after feeling betrayed at his negative attitude toward fans.
- Went to the Great X in the Sky: When Bobby asks Gil at the climax, while they're surrounded by cops, where his son is, Gil (who is suffering a Villainous Breakdown) snarks "I don't know. He may be in that great ballpark in the sky." Thankfully he didn't kill the kid, and it was really more of a Sarcastic Confession — the cops check the ballpark where Gil played little leagues and find the kid restrained there.