Dirs: Peter Farrelly,Bobby Farrelly. US. 2005. 103mins.
Predictably, and not toopainfully, the Hollywood version of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitchsubstitutes baseball for football and a cutesy comic tone for the wistful moodof the British author's classic memoir about having 'measured out my lifein Arsenal fixtures.' The result is a slight but sweet romantic comedydirected (almost tastefully) by the Farrelly brothers, with Drew Barrymoreupfront in the cast and former Saturday Night Live funny man Jimmy Fallonsupporting from midfield.
After the success of her2004 rom-com 50 First Dates, Barrymore will be the primary draw when Foxreleases Fever Pitch in the US this weekend to coincide with the startof the baseball season (Fallon's movie career got off to a slow start with lastyear's Taxi and the Farrellys' Stuck On You disappointed in2003). The star and the timing should be enough to push the film to a mid-leveldomestic take, but reaching the $120m achieved by 50 First Dates in theUS seems unlikely.
Outside the US,baseball-playing territories such as Japan may prove welcoming but the chancesof significant grosses elsewhere seem slim: the baseball theme and Fallon'slack of an international profile will be drawbacks and in some marketsaudiences will already have seen the UK feature version of Hornby's book, madeby Channel 4 in 1997 with Colin Firth starring (the UK film also got a limitedand brief theatrical release in the US in 1999).
Screenwriters Lowell Ganzand Babaloo Mandel (Robots) have tackled baseball (A League Of TheirOwn) and romance (Splash) before and here they do a slick jobinterweaving the themes of sport and love.
Barrymore's Lindsey is arising young business consultant whose success has always got in the way ofromance. Frustrated by the dating game, she decides to take a chance onFallon's Ben, a charming, mild-mannered high school teacher who also happens tobe 'one of God's most pathetic creatures' - a diehard fan of thenotoriously underachieving Boston Red Sox baseball team.
The romance goes beautifullyuntil baseball season begins - then Ben's obsession starts to clash withLindsey's work and the relationship heads for trouble.
Filmed against the backdropof the real 2004 US baseball season, the movie had to accommodate the unexpectedwhen the Red Sox surprised and delighted fans by winning their first WorldSeries in 86 years. The victory apparently caused hurried script re-writes butit increases the impact of the film's feel-good ending (and makes the storycloser to Hornby's, which incorporated Arsenal's to-the-wire 1989 LeagueChampionship win).
The footage shot at actualRed Sox games (including the climax of the World Series) captures some of thepassion that, up to now, has ruled Ben's life. But the story is less about sportthan it was in either the book or the UK film - here, it's more about romance,and it's told more from the woman's point of view.
In their first conventionalromantic comedy, directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly mostly steer clear ofgross-out humour and instead emphasise the sweet, romantic side that waspresent but less evident in their previous outings like Shallow Hal and There'sSomething About Mary. The approach produces a few affecting moments but itsometimes gets cloying. And the film never quite manages to hit its dramaticnotes: whenever the mood starts to get serious the Farrellys find some way torevert quickly to a more lightweight feel.
The two leads dominate thescreen and both work extremely hard at being cute. Barrymore, who began her adultcareer with a run of romantic comedies, is a past master at balancing cutenesswith earthiness and she pulls the trick off once more here. Fallon'swinsomeness occasionally becomes annoying, but he is more relaxed and naturalthan he was in the horribly strained Taxi.
Prod cos: Fox 2000 Pictures, Wildgaze Films, Flower Films
US dist: 20th Century Fox
Int'l dist: Fox
Exec prods: Nick Hornby, DavidEvans, Marc S Fischer
Prods: Alan Greenspan, AmandaPosey, Gil Netter, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen, Bradley Thomas
Scr: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel,based on the book by Nick Hornby
Cine: Matthew F Leonetti
Prod des: Maher Ahmed
Ed: Alan Baumgarten
Music: Craig Armstrong
Main cast: Drew Barrymore, JimmyFallon, James B Sikking, JoBeth Williams, Willie Garson, Evan Helmuth, IoneSkye, Kadee Strickland