Fever Pitch

on April 08, 2005 by Mark Keizer
With their hair gel days behind them, the Farrelly brothers are beginning to overcompensate. After the likeable yet limp "Stuck on You" comes the equally likeable yet limp "Fever Pitch." By far the least wonderful of the three Nick Hornby adaptations (the others being "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy"), "Fever Pitch" is surely a nice movie. But considering the source material, nice should not have been the goal. What we're left with, however, works well enough, thanks to a winning turn by Drew Barrymore and a well-realized milieu that makes up for the punchless script and lazy direction. To use the parlance of the piece, "Fever Pitch" is merely a bloop single.

Jimmy Fallon takes a swing at romantic lead in the role of Ben Wrightman, a math teacher who meets high-powered business consultant Lindsey Meeks (Barrymore) on a school field trip. Lindsey's Greek chorus of gym-rat friends believes dating a schoolteacher is beneath her, but she takes a shot and goes out with him. She's eventually won over by that puppy-dog Wrightman charm, but since their love blossomed over the winter, he has yet to reveal his deep, dark secret: Come spring, he transforms into an obsessive Boston Red Sox fan whose love for the team eclipses all else and has kept him off the babe market for most of his adult life. Lindsey rolls with the concept as long as she can. But when he begins putting the team's needs ahead of hers (especially when he begs off a romantic weekend in Paris because the Sox are playing the Yankees), it may be too late for Ben to get his priorities straight.

"Fever Pitch" seems an easy home run, but the Farrellys and big screen gagmeisters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel swing and miss. The film is lifeless, with scenes that start promisingly then abruptly die. Also, they can't infuse the movie with any true passion for the game -- depth that made baseball films like "Bull Durham" so wonderful. They don't even take rabid fandom to a more interesting or insightful level, instead hoping that Ben's Sox-a-holic living quarters and childish antics on ESPN will do the work for them. The movie appears to take off about an hour in, when Lindsey compares her work-obsessed life with Ben's Sox-obsessed life and begins to understand that baseball is more than a game to him. This leads to some solid conflict scenes that are the best scenes in the movie. But character-wise, the film underachieves and, with jokes barely worth a chuckle, the movie is rendered pleasantly generic. Fallon is too slight a presence with none of the maturity and sincerity of Hugh Grant or John Cusack, from "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity," respectively.

What keeps us in the ballgame are Drew Barrymore and the Sox themselves. Barrymore emerges as the only human being in the movie and her adorable brand of exasperation convinces us that Lindsey would stay with Ben through a torturously long baseball season. A coda, which became necessary when the inconsiderate Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, feels rushed. Good as usual is the needledrop music, whose quantity and quality are becoming a hallmark of the Farrellys' work. Starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Directed by Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly. Written by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Produced by Alan Greenspan, Amanda Posey, Gil Netter, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen and Bradley Thomas. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality. Running time: 101 min

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