Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch **1/2
Twentieth Century Fox

By Dwight Brown NNPA Film Critic

Shortly after Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden, they argued about his fanatical love of sports and his neglect of her emotional needs. It’s an old war story in the battle of the sexes. Old but alive today.

Gamely, screenwriters Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel have adapted the autobiographical book Fever Pitch (an English man obsessed with soccer) and themed it around America’s favorite pastime. Baseball. When actress/producer Drew Barrymore signed on and the notorious kings of comedy filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly got drafted, Fever Pitch had a starting line-up. Batter up!

Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a high-school teacher, has had season tickets to the Boston Red Sox for decades. You can tell he’s a diehard Red Sox fan from the permanent tear tracks that crease his face. When Babe Ruth left Boston for the Yankees, the “Curse of the Bambino” blighted the Sox, making them perennial losers, like Ben and his love life.

Things change the day Ben meets Lindsay (Drew Barrymore), an ambitious business consultant exec who admires a man with hobbies. He’s smitten, she knows a good man is hard to find, “I’m about to turn 20/10 (30 years-old) and the dating market is bearish.” They date, fall in love and contemplate marriage — but can they make it to the post season?

The Farrelly brothers, notorious for over-the-top farce (Dumb and Dumber, or dirty jesting (Something About Mary) tackle this no frills romantic comedy too seriously. Two thirds of the movie is mildly humorous and never goes for the comic or emotional jugular. Scenes chain-link into each other with little fanfare and lots of set-up. Actors stand on obvious sets. They flail and spew not-so-quick-witted, expository, TV sitcommish dialogue. Over time, Ben’s obsession is duly catalogued and Lindsay’s accommodating nature evolves.

Denied the backdrop of laugh-out-loud guffaws, Fever Pitch barely raises a temperature. As the budding romance hits bumps in the road, romantic comedy turns into romantic drama and the film gathers solid footing. Emotional guts. Misunderstandings complicate matters. Viewers who were ambivalent about Ben and Lindsay will now want them to persevere. This is when the movie finds its magic.

The film’s most consistent element is Drew Barrymore. Smart, driven yet vulnerable, you like her and want her character to find joy. It’s the mark of a gifted actress with a perfect please-love-me persona. Fallon, with his impish face, is not as polished as she. He has yet to figure out how to shine in a dull scene, like a seasoned romantic lead (Will Smith) or a manic comic actor (Will Ferrell).

Sit through the first and second acts and the fanatic baseball fans will grow on you like old friends. Stick with the romance and you’ll learn a lot about the tolerance and mutual respect it takes to make a relationship work. Fever Pitch’s third act is like the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two strikes, three balls. Ben and Lindsay are up at bat and you won’t want to miss it. Their climax makes the film worth the price of admission and the money shot is Drew Barrymore running across a baseball field. Desperate. Tears will fall down your cheeks, like a true Red Sox fan.

Man’s love of sports has caused more friction in marriages than balancing the family checkbook. Fever Pitch explores that age-old dilemma admirably, even if it only gets to third base.

Play ball!