- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

The public school teacher character in Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s romantic comedy “Fever Pitch” feels inferior to his new girlfriend, Type A corporate number-cruncher Lindsay Weeks. Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) fears that behind his back, she and her friends titter that he’s “Ben the schoolteacher.”

That doesn’t sound like the salt of the earth I’m familiar with — you know, the folks who demand that the rest of us thank them if we can read their bumper stickers.

Anyway, Drew Barrymore’s Lindsay is 30, single and seemingly forever destined to push away men who are too much like herself: competitive, career-obsessed, commitment-phobic. Her friends, actually, are thrilled that she’s with a teacher, someone who’s laid back, someone who’s unconcerned with climbing up a corporate grease pole.

Robin (KaDee Strickland) has a hunch Ben is too perfect. It’s not like he’s straight out of college. He’s 30. Why is he still on the market?

Bingo.

Ben is a citizen of Red Sox Nation, a frothing, religiously loyal, New York Yankees-hating republic of Boston baseball obsessives. Novelist Stephen King, who has a first-pitch-throwing cameo in the movie, attests to the mania in his back-page Entertainment Weekly column. He has much in common with Ben — framed pictures of Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski, Red Sox shirts and linens — but says he draws the line at Yankees toilet paper.

Nice.

Can Ben make room for a normally functioning relationship in that glorious stretch of months between spring training and October? (The Farrelly brothers had to rewrite the movie to work in last year’s Bambino’s Curse-lifting post-season.) At one point, Lindsay distinguishes between Winter Ben and Summer Ben — that is, sane Ben and crazy Ben.

“Fever Pitch” is based on British author Nick Hornby’s memoir, which is about a maniacal love of soccer, not baseball. (A 1997 Colin Firth movie of the same name toed the soccer line, making Mr. Hornby one lucky double-dipper.) The Farrelly brothers of Rhode Island, working from a script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, switched the action to Beantown and Fenway Park, where they capture the sights and smells of the Red Sox universe with an obvious love for both the team and game.

The movie gets the baseball right, as far it goes. It’s attractive wallpaper. Ben, a season-ticket holder through his late uncle, gives a speech on the exquisite orderliness of baseball that would please George Will and the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti. His buddies debase themselves for his Yankee tickets.

What “Fever Pitch” lacks is a worth-caring-about romance. This one’s predictable, cool and tame, unlike the grotesque passions of, say, “There’s Something About Mary.” The Farrelly brothers go light on gross-out humor: Ben and Lindsay’s relationship starts with a long night of food poisoning, but that’s about it for bodily projectiles.

The problem is the movie’s stars. Miss Barrymore is the same as she ever was: bubbly, goofily accessible, never mean. Mr. Fallon is a nullity. He’s fine coming through a small box on “Saturday Night Live,” but on the big screen, his comedy is dryly underwhelming.

Maybe “Fever Pitch” would have been better with Adam Sandler, who is a more convincing nutcase. As it is, it’s a good ballgame, a warm beer and an overpriced frank.

**

TITLE: “Fever Pitch”

RATING: PG-13 (Crude and sexual humor; sensuality)

CREDITS: Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly. Produced by Drew Barrymore, Alan Greenspan, Nancy Juvonen, Gil Netter, Amanda Posey and Bradley Thomas. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on Nick Hornby’s memoir. Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti. Original music by Craig Armstrong.

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.feverpitch.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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