*½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C+
starring Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, James B. Sikking, JoBeth Williams
screenplay by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, based on the novel by Nick Hornby
directed by Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly
by Walter Chaw Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a Red Sox fanatic and middle-school math teacher, falls in love with corporate minx Lindsey (Drew Barrymore), who, as is often the case in Farrelly Brothers films, is perfect. She's beautiful, bug-eyes and all, and when she simpers in her mealy-mouthed way that she loves Ben as much as Ben loves baseball, all the men folk are supposed to melt--but I have serious doubts as to whether Barrymore is romantic lead material. Though she's fine getting hit in the face with a hard foul (her best roles are as the benighted bimbos in Adam Sandler trainwrecks), much of Barrymore's sultriness has to do with the idea of her as a naughty schoolgirl (Poison Ivy), not as a savvy woman of the world. She's no Mary, in other words, and her lack as one-half of Fever Pitch's romantic pairing is distracting--if not actually crippling, since leading man Fallon is himself a stammering vanilla doormat.
So Ben and Lindsey are doing great until baseball season starts and Ben reveals himself to be one of those screaming jackholes on ESPN who quits his job to go to spring training with his team: explanation in a nutshell as to why thirtysomething Ben is single, though no commensurate explanation is offered for why Lindsey is still in the dating pool. (Probably something to do with how she looks, talks, and acts like Drew Barrymore.) The conflict thus established, Ben will have to eventually choose between America's pastime and a starlet past her prime, while both Mars and Venus have three vestigial satellite friends to pad out the running time of this short subject to feature length. It all ends with one of those moments that typically involves horses or karaoke bars, with the celebrated "drastic" rewrite to accommodate the Red Sox finally winning the World Series after decades of futility actually around three minutes of montage epilogue.
There's something about the Farrelly brothers that I like--a lot. It's not the gross-out slapstick, although I think they do that better than most, but rather a level of intelligence and sensitivity that allows them to deliver--under the radar, as it were--strong humanist messages about the objectification of women, the empowerment of people with physical and emotional disabilities, and the importance of establishing in any kind of relationship a measure of compromise and independence. Their comedy works because the Farrellys have not only a keen eye for but also a deep sympathy with human foible; when Jack Black's Hal in Shallow Hal scolds his overweight girlfriend's father for denigrating her looks, we get the gag that in Hal's eyes, she's Gwyneth Paltrow, and we likewise understand that many of this fat girl's self-esteem issues probably do have something to do with the amount of support she's getting from the people closest to her. That's a complicated movement in any sort of film--and at least until Fever Pitch, every Farrelly movie has had at least one moment in it that's beautifully observed. Adapted from Nick Hornby's soccer-themed novel, Fever Pitch isn't terrible, but it's really, really bland.
Besides loving baseball, there's nothing unusual about Ben, and besides loving Ben, there's nothing unusual about Lindsey; the entire film is basically a friction-less exercise in boy gets/loses/gets girl set against Boston's historic championship season. There's no energy to it, no tension, and little chemistry: in fact, by the end of it, it's so unmemorable that it's fair to wonder what's happened to the time. A rival for Lindsey's affections briefly manifests before disappearing without an explanation, and altogether too many extras have eye-blink cameos--just long enough to deliver a wise/snarky bit of advice before vaporizing into the ether. Fever Pitch is the kind of film where the main characters have no purpose outside of providing minor challenges for one another, and its hundreds of minor characters are pastiches to give the main characters a rest. Its best moments begin to address how sports can drive people nuts, but even that's ultimately thrown under the wheels of syrup and tripe. ("You love the Red Sox, but has the Red Sox ever loved you back?" Ooooh.) Blame the screenwriting team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, together responsible for some of the most godawful, howlingly boring material to ever glance off the big screen. (Ron Howard and Billy Crystal have them on speed dial.) It takes something special to make the Farrelly Brothers completely ordinary; think of Fever Pitch as the phone booth--though the Kryptonite could be any combination of Ganz & Mandel, Fallon, or Barrymore. Originally published: April 8, 2005.
by Bill Chambers Fox presents Fever Pitch on DVD in a 2.31:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (fullscreen sold separately) that fluctuates between film-like and overtreated; there is a constant dimness, but chalk that up to cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti, whose movies always make you think you have cataracts. Never quite bassy enough during the stadium sequences, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio nevertheless honours an intermittently atmospheric mix, while music and dialogue are loud without sounding harsh or, conversely, clipped. Light on supplements relative to previous Farrelly Brothers releases, the disc includes thirteen deleted scenes (totalling 19 minutes), a gag reel, three featurettes, and the de rigueur commentary. Although said elisions are titled with a smut-peddler's desperation (e.g., "Lindsey on Toilet," "Lindsey Takes a Bath"), there's some noteworthy material here, such as a longer version of the prologue--which veers closer to Farrelly pathos than anything that reached the final cut--and a scene set in a sports bar heretofore glimpsed only in the trailer. Just don't expect any gems along the lines of Matt Damon's excised haircut monologue from Stuck on You.
Shock of shocks, Jimmy Fallon cracks up a lot in the egregious gag reel (6 mins.), though he's blessedly barely a presence in the two "Internet featurettes," the self-explanatory "Love Triangle" (2 mins.) and "Break the Curse" (3 mins.). The latter, dealing with the serendipity of the production coinciding with the Red Sox's first Championship in 86 years and the attendant logistics of shooting at the winning game, is expanded upon in Fox Movie Channel's shameless "Anatomy of a Scene" wannabe "Making a Scene: Fever Pitch" (8 mins.). Predictably, neither addresses the fact that Fallon and Drew Barrymore pissed off a lot of Red Sox fans by divining attention away from the team's victory lap on national television. Sadly, my vow to never sit through another Farrelly Brothers yak-track remains unbroken, as it takes all of three minutes for their conversation to devolve into arcane trainspotting here: that's when they start furnishing the child actors playing Fallon's students with gratuitous biographies. Fever Pitch's trailer and an "Inside Look" featurette (feeturette?) on the upcoming Cameron Diaz vehicle In Her Shoes round out the platter. Originally published: September 5, 2005.