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'Fever Pitch': The Farrellys' Ground Ball to Left Field

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page C01


This is one of the funniest lines in the otherwise lethargic romantic comedy "Fever Pitch," and it's delivered with a lingering mortified bitterness familiar to any Boston Red Sox fan unlucky enough to remember Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. (Hey, I was a Mets fan and the Buckner error still gives me tsoris.)

But take heart, Red Sox Nation: You'll always have last year's Game 5. That, of course, would be the American League Championship Series game in which the team completed a remarkable rally, part of the Sox' comeback against the New York Yankees for a ticket to the World Series. And those honeyed moments are appropriately exploited by filmmakers Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who otherwise have uneven success adapting British author Nick Hornby's memoir.

Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore are miscast as the fervent fan and his love interest. (Darren Michaels -- 20th Century Fox)

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That book had to do with Hornby's heartbreaking devotion to Arsenal, the Red Sox of British soccer. Notwithstanding the felicitous parallels between the two teams -- the working-class roots, legendary losing streaks, long-standing rivalries and rabidly, even violently, loyal fans -- the Americanized "Fever Pitch" is no livelier than the blah 1997 British rom-com starring Colin Firth. "Saturday Night Live" player Jimmy Fallon takes on Firth's role as a man whose lifelong worship of his home team gets in the way of a budding relationship with the perfect woman. Here, she's played by Drew Barrymore, whose career seems to consist of movies in which she's either infectiously adorable or inexplicably wooden. A couple of well-played physical gags aside, "Fever Pitch" should be immediately placed in the latter category.

The title of "Fever Pitch" is obviously a sports pun, but it could just as easily apply to its one-line, high-concept plot: "Maniacal Red Sox fan meets the girl of his dreams but can't keep her." And that's about all you need to know about a movie that all but completely squanders its potential to be romantic or comedic. Mostly, this is due to bad casting: Barrymore largely submerges her signature goofy appeal to play a number-crunching business consultant. (She does have a wonderful line when Fallon's character explains that he attends spring training every year to figure out who should start and who should be cut. "And the Red Sox ask your opinion?" she asks brightly.) Fallon, in his first headlining role, looks cute, but he can barely make himself understood through his slurry, adenoidal mumble (is there a SAG requirement these days that all actors sound as if they've just sprayed their throats with Chloraseptic?).

But the Farrelly brothers, whose comedies "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" have made them the Toscaninis of gross-out humor, are just as misplaced. Like their other attempt at a movie for grown-ups, the 2000 misfire "Me, Myself & Irene," "Fever Pitch" suffers from oddly clunky pacing and long, talky passages of little verbal dexterity and zero interest, import or impact . It's as if, deprived of their usual set pieces involving flatulence, body fluids or the infliction of pain on male nether regions, they're utterly unable to move a narrative along. (Lest Farrelly fans think they've wandered into the wrong movie, however, the directors have included a ridiculously protracted sequence of vomit jokes, including sound effects.)

Still, there are bright spots in "Fever Pitch," when the Farrellys' inherent sweetness shines through. (That sweetness has always been there in the best of their movies -- think of Jonathan Richman's winsome Greek chorus in "There's Something About Mary.") Most of them take place at Fenway Park, where the filmmakers were allowed to shoot right through to the end of last year's championship season (Game 5 is handled with particular finesse). They aptly capture the giddy excitement of that time, starting with the guarded optimism of Opening Day and ending with, well, you know how it ends. If anything, "Fever Pitch" will give Bosox fans one more chance to relive, in big-screen glory, those fleeting, flavorsome days. And just maybe, it will give newly minted Nats fans a taste of things to come.

(N.B.: For reasons known only to the recently departed geniuses who ran 20th Century Fox and to Rupert Murdoch, "Fever Pitch" is preceded by a loathsome animated short film called "American Dad." All American dads, moms and kids are encouraged to wait it out in the more edifying environs of the theater restroom.)

Fever Pitch (106 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and mild sexuality.

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