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April 8, 2005

Fever Pitch more harmful to game than steroids

There are plenty of reasons to see Fever Pitch, the film featuring a ménage à trois between Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, and the Boston Red Sox: Flattering city shots of Boston will make even die-hard Yankees fans miss the charm of Beantown; Sox fans will get to relive the joy of beating the Yankees this past fall (do they even care about winning the Series? The verdict's still out, but my money's on no); and Yankees fans will get a rise out of how megalomaniacal their mortal enemies are.

Unfortunately, the list of reasons to see Fever Pitch does not include the plot, nor the performances of Drew Barrymore as Lindsey Meeks and Jimmy Fallon as Ben Wrightman. Lindsey, a highfalutin math nerd, is sprinting up the corporate ladder at a Boston firm when she meets Ben, a nebbish high school math teacher bringing his class to tour her office.

Provoked by his students, Ben asks Lindsey out and the romance begins. Lindsey is high society; Ben is a schoolteacher. Lindsey has shallow friends; Ben has Red Sox crazies. Lindsey has a chic designer apartment; Ben has a bachelor pad stitched like a baseball and stamped with as many Sox emblems as possible (including a replica of the trademark green scoreboard from Fenway in his living room). Lindsey is about to turn "20-10"; Ben is, well, a Red Sox fan.

The "love" story develops on autopilot. They go on a few dates. He takes care of her when she's sick. He meets her parents. All her friends are impressed with him.

All is well, until spring training begins. With it, Lindsey has become all but ignored like a grounder through the glove of Bill Buckner, whose botched play allowed the 1986 World Series to slip from the Sox.

To learn about Ben, Lindsey must learn about baseball. Ben, who has loved the Sox for 23 years, must learn to love something that will actually win once in a while, since the Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918—and have the talent of a pile of goat droppings.

There's a lot of potential in the nice-guy-obsessed-with-a-sport meets nice-girl-who-may-work-too-much setup, and Barrymore and Fallon don't entirely fall on their faces. They have good chemistry and are a chipper couple. The main problem is simply that Barrymore's performance is terrible. One of the funniest lines in the movie, unintentionally, is when Lindsey tells Ben that he's broken her heart. This follows a conversation during which Ben says he's loved the Sox for 23 years while she's loved nothing for that long. The situation is so predictable, the dialogue leading into it so perfunctory, and her delivery so overwrought that the scene took on a bad-soap-opera-turned-Geico-commercial type of humor. That might work in a car insurance ad—but not in a romantic comedy.

Fallon, away from his desk job as the former anchor of "Weekend Update" on SNL, gives a solid performance as a mumbly, slightly awkward pre-teen trapped in a 30-year-old body.

An area at which Fever Pitch succeeded far better was capturing the community of fans at Fenway Park. Ben's relatives have held season tickets to the Sox games for generations, and he has become part of the Sox family—his "summer family," as he calls it. His relatives at Fenway include an oddball sponge salesman, a divorced couple who still sit together (how could they bear to give up the tickets?), and a lady who has lost 200 pounds over the winter.

Whatever their differences, Ben's summer family is bound together by their connection to the Sox. The setting—somewhere between a bowling league, bingo night at the community center, and the waiting room at the therapist's office—creates unconventional opportunities for dialogue. And that's something the movie is short on.