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Friday, July 7, 2006

Baseball steals soccer classic

Fever Pitch

Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Peter and Bobby Farelly
Running time: 103 minutes
Language: English
Opens July 8
[See Japan Times movie listings]

For those who loved Nick Hornby's brilliant, gritty, blood, sweat and tears sucker-for-soccer droolfest "Fever Pitch," you can all exhale because the Hollywood film version is unrecognizable from the original story. Instead of the soccer pitch you get a baseball field. Instead of Arsenal, you get the Boston Red Sox. "Fever Pitch" the movie might have Nick Hornby's name on the executive producer's list, but that's where the similarity ends.

News photo

Filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farelly ("There's Something About Mary," "Shallow Hal") have converted Hornby's inexplicable, masochistic passion for soccer into a romantic love comedy. Yes, you heard me right: L-o-v-e.

And starring none other than cutie-pie Drew Barrymore. She's usually adorable in every film, but she's especially effective in "Fever Pitch," probably because after films like "The Wedding Singer" and "Fifty First Kisses" she can play the good-sport romantic comedy heroine paired with a lovable nerd/dork with her eyes closed. So if you can put aside all notions that this is a "Fever Pitch" adaptation and just view it as yet another notch in the career of Barrymore, then you'll be OK, sort of.

The Red Sox, for the record, had an on-going rivalry with the New York Yankees that lasted close to a century and during that time they had never won a pennant. So imagine the hullabaloo when they actually won the World Series in 2004, a fact which to this day, if mentioned, causes many New Englanders to start hemorrhaging from the ears with sheer excitement. "Fever Pitch" is about one, die-hard, dedicated Red Sox fan and his girlfriend who meet the year before the World Series shebang, which meant that this girlfriend was in for a helluva crazy time. There's nothing like being in close proximity to a Sox fan during that long, winding, agonizing road to pennant victory.

Mind you, before Bostonian Lindsay (Barrymore) met Ben (Jimmy Fallon) she didn't know the Sox or their history (ping! plot hole alert: no one who has lived in Boston for over a month can remain ignorant of the Red Sox). She was a high-end financial consultant whose idea of relaxation was to attend spin classes with a posse of similarly successful girlfriends. And then the sweet, lunky, schoolteacher Ben walks into her life all smiles and humility and his shirts untucked. Against her initial hunch that they're too different from each other, Lindsay decides to go out with him because the previous men in her life had been as competitive as she, and as one of her girlfriends points out: "It was like you were dating yourself!" In comparison, Ben was peace and relaxation and the feeling of being loved (he tells her he loves her for the way she sometimes talks out of the side of her mouth "like an adorable stroke victim").

What works in "Fever Pitch" is Barrymore as the much-tried but ever-smiling career woman who earnestly tries to match her boyfriend's enthusiasm for the Red Sox because, well, because she loves him and wishes him happiness (sob!).

What fails, in comparison, is love object Ben, who starts out as a charmer before quickly degenerating into a Sox slave-sucker who would willingly sell his mother (never mind his soul) for a five-week winning streak. This would be fine for a 12-year old boy, but for a thirty-something schoolteacher it can get terribly irritating. Or just plain terrible. Why would a woman like Lindsay choose to stick around with this weirdo? Or more accurately: How far and how much will a man indulge himself in sports fanaticism before his girlfriend finally snaps? Answer: A lot!

This is a Farelly Brothers work but there's very little of their trademark pranks, cynicism and regurgitation and/or body fluid jokes. The tone is -- dare I say it -- utterly sincere. They mean everything they're saying. But then the Farellys are born-and-bred New Englanders, which just goes to show you: the Sox bond is thicker than blood. And other bodily fluids.

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