“Fever Pitch” is clearly a Peter and Bobby Farrelly movie. It is easily identifiable not for the gross-out humor that made the directors’ names in “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber,” but instead for the awkward sentimentality of recent misfires “Shallow Hal” and “Stuck on You.” Like those, “Fever Pitch” is chock full of forced and uneven corniness and — considering the film’s winning premise — it makes one wonder how they could screw this one up, too.
Very loosely based on an autobiogrphical novel by British author Nick Hornby, the book’s soccer-obsessed main character is transplanted from the U.K. to Boston’s Fenway Park during last season’s curse-breaking Red Sox championship run. Ben Wrightman (a glassy-eyed Jimmy Fallon) is a schoolteacher and a loyal season ticket-holder. His romantic entanglements always end badly because of his overwhelming dedication to the baseball team, so when ambitious businesswoman Lindsey Meeks (a charming Drew Barrymore) falls for him in the off-season, he dreads the coming spring when she will realize his true passion. Lindsey stands by her man at first, even attending games with him. But as the season wears on, she realizes that Winter Ben and Summer Ben are two different people entirely. Eventually Ben must question where his priorities lie.
The “man reluctant to grow up” concept has been dealt with before and infinitely better in movie adaptations of Hornby’s other novels “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy.” Ben sleeps on Red Sox sheets, washes with Red Sox towels, and wipes with Yankees toilet paper, but screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (“A League of Their Own,” “City Slickers”) ignore all of the character’s internal thoughts and concentrate too hard on hitting all the typical signposts of a romantic comedy, leaving out the very thing that makes a good one stand out: personality.
The new couple each have their own stable of friends to discuss the relationship with, and although they are more annoying than Ben’s, Lindsey’s girlfriends at least serve their purpose. Since Ben’s buddies mostly talk about the Sox and not girl trouble, the task is left to Fallon alone to flesh out his role, and he is not up to the challenge.
Lindsey tells her friends that Ben is funny, but there is rarely evidence of it onscreen. Fallon never finds his footing, and lines that were intended to be amusing come out as self-conscious and unconvincing. You notice Fallon trying to play an amiable guy rather than actually seeing the character onscreen. He is not helped by the movie’s uneven tempo, and its inability to locate its own pulse. Barrymore, likable even in the slightest of roles, tries to muster up some sparks between them, but it just isn’t there. Something is wrong when you begin wishing Adam Sandler had been in the movie instead.
It is obvious that the Farrellys were deliberately “playing it safe” with the low-raunch factor in “Fever Pitch,” which makes their one attempt at ballsy bawdiness stick out even further. When Ben’s friends attempt to clean him up in the shower, one of them is crouched just below his waist making broad strokes with a razor. The rude joke is bizarrely unfunny, especially dumped so uncomfortably in such a bland film.
Barrymore brings a delightful quality to her underwritten role, and the inherent fun in the movie’s central idea also keeps “Fever Pitch” from being a total rain-out. But the pacing is clumsy, the script is numb, and there is an alarming lack of chemistry between the two stars. The directors want to play nice, but after another middling film, they only prove that they can not tell a fluid story. It’s a good thing that Bostonians can eat the real thing every day, because “Fever Pitch” amounts to nothing more than clam chowder out of a can.