Fever Pitch

  Fever Pitch
"Jimmy, everyone knows Pedro's average-against skyrockets after 100 pitches."

© 2005, 20th Century Fox
All Rights Reserved

Lindsay (Drew Barrymore) is a workaholic struggling with her dating woes when she meets mild schoolteacher Ben (Jimmy Fallon). She falls in love with his charming ways, and the two embark on a loving winter relationship. However, when baseball's spring training rolls around, Lindsay is face to face with Ben's true nature as a hardcore, obsessive, eternal Boston Red Sox fan whose season tickets make trouble for their new relationship. Trying to maintain a life while servicing Ben's fandom, Lindsay struggles to keep her composure and remain in love.

For their eighth feature film, the fun-loving Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, have decided to step back for "Fever Pitch" (IMDb listing) and let the film lead the way. That's not to say "Pitch" isn't often hilarious and crushingly charming, but after 2003's disappointing conjoined twin comedy "Stuck on You," the Farrellys have retired their shock value cinema in hopes of capturing a genuinely peaceful romantic comedy. It's fluffy entertainment, but "Pitch" works well.

Adapted from the decidedly British Nick Hornby novel (where the "Pitch" of the title indicated soccer as the idolized sport of the story), the Farrelly "Pitch" takes the action to American shores, basking in the red and white glow of Boston Red Sox lore. For every missed joke or bungled scene, the Farrellys make it up to the audience by creating pure baseball excitement, helping to keep the pace of the film when it occasionally becomes sidetracked. From the Green Monster to Fenway Franks, the filmmakers adore every nook and cranny of the team, and their eagerness to envelope the audience in the ambiance of the field and the stands keeps "Pitch" delightful.

Where "Pitch" suffers most is in its transition from the page to the screen. The worn-out screenwriters, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("City Slickers"), have a clear narrative arc for their script, but they fail to recognize that "Pitch" is better served by simplicity. Their attempts at underlining the plot with exhausted drama poisons the film. The Farrellys can only randomly pick their sincere moments, which leaves the film episodic and disjointed. Some neat ideas, including a good scene where Ben falls into a chicken-wing-and-Bill-Buckner-video depression after Lindsay leaves him, feel pointless and shoehorned, taking away from the focal point. These moments serve the screenplay's structure, not the film's.

Thankfully, the Farrellys have Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon to rely on. The couple share a tart chemistry, which eventually leads to warmth and hilarity as they struggle to deal with their new curveball arrangement. After last year's insulting "Taxi," I was ready to pass Jimmy Fallon over as a leading man, but his timing and contagious good nature are put to wonderful use in "Pitch." He's still uncomfortable in front of the camera, but Fallon shows a lot more reserve here, and I found it impossible to resist his throwaway joke about the 1989 Patrick Swayze classic, "Road House." Barrymore is equally as entertaining on her side of the film. While the role is a cakewalk for the actress, her love-struck zeal is note-perfect, and she's always game to bail out Fallon when a joke isn't working.

The marketing suggests something a little more madcap than what actually appears in "Fever Pitch," which isn't fair to what the Farrellys are trying to create. "Pitch" is a sweet concoction, a valentine to the Red Sox, and a genial romantic comedy. It may not hit a home run, but it has some good hustle to it.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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