Fever Pitch

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There’s always room in the world for a good date movie. The best ones appeal to both genders, sparking smart after-movie conversation and affection. Fever Pitch could have been one of those films. After all, Nick Hornby’s novels have produced two terrific examples of the genre: High Fidelity and About A Boy. Unfortunately, this latest adaptation is strictly a minor league affair.

Ben (Jimmy Fallon) is an amiably goofy math teacher and Boston Red Sox fanatic. A child of divorce, his uncle took him to Fenway Park as a wee lad to ease the pain and he’s devoutly followed the team since. His apartment is a shrine to the Sox, his summer life is obsessively built around home games and his surrogate family is a cast of cuddly smart-mouthed characters who sit with him in the dugout seats he inherited from his uncle.

Enter Lindsay (Drew Barrymore), a hard-nosed, cute-as-a-button businesswoman who becomes smitten with Ben during the off-season, not realizing she’ll be relegated to the bench come opening day. She tries to adjust but, this being a romantic comedy, awkward complications ensue and the two characters fall in and out of love at the wrong moments.

The idea certainly has great promise, but screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers, A League Of Their Own, Splash) water down Hornby’s cunning examination of sports fanaticism so much that they drain it of any dramatic potential. Eschewing emotional risk in favor of formulaic smiley-faced romance, the film has a few funny jokes, the always-appealing Barrymore and little else. One wonders what a writer with real passion for sports — say, Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup) — might have made of the script.

Fallon brings an overly dreamy, gee-aw-shucks demeanor to Ben, disarming him of much needed intensity. The role seems better suited to Adam Sandler, whose man-child characters carry a sense of real threat.

The Farrelly brothers, stepping away from their own material for a change, deliver another of their increasingly polite comedies (shockingly, they relegate themselves to just one vomit joke here). The two have never been particularly good directors but they have been able to infuse even their weakest films with a great deal of heart and humor, managing to entertain in spite of obvious flaws.

Here, however, the film begs for more insight and tension. There’s something to be said about personal passions — be it sports or business — and the empty space they fill. The film hints at those larger issues but never allows them to effectively resonate within the characters or the story.

While Fever Pitch was filming, an astonishing thing happened: Coming off an 86-year losing streak, the Boston Red Sox surprised the world with an unheard-of end-of-season upset and eventual win in the 2004 World Series. It’s the kind of legendary reversal of fortune that feeds the fire in the most fanatical fan — and thus it’s too bad the filmmakers could think of no better way to capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime event than to tack on a halfhearted epilogue. A true Red Sox fan would have delivered a home run instead of a ground single.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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