<I>Fever Pitch</I>: Farrellys deliver a softball


For women who had to sit through Sin City last weekend, it's payback time.

You remember the Farrelly Brothers, Bobby and Peter. They made their name during the Clinton years with raunchy, edgy comedies. They softened during the first G.W. Bush administration, making basically sweet comedies that involved grotesque or disabled people (conjoined twins, a man with spina bifida, a hugely obese woman) in major roles.

There's hardly a trace– well, there is a scene of one guy shaving another's privates, but a dog makes it all the way through the movie without being abused– of the Farrellys of old in Fever Pitch, a romantic comedy that's just a step away from Disney. To represent the disabled, there are brief appearances by a man in a wheelchair and school kids in an arm cast and a neck brace.

That doesn't mean Pitch is a bad movie, just that it's not the kind we associate with its directors. Based on a novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), it's been seamlessly adapted by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from soccer in the U.K. to baseball in the U.S. They really had to think on their feet when the ending rewrote itself last year, and they had to make their screenplay conform.

When you hear about a romantic triangle involving a man, a woman, and a baseball team, you naturally think the woman is servicing the entire team– or maybe the man is, and the movie won't be shown outside of queer festivals. In Fever Pitch the sex is only between the man and the woman; the man is a rabid– but platonic– fan of the Boston Red Sox.

Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore) and Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) meet when he brings some of his students to tour her office, where she's a candidate for a big promotion. It's October when they start dating, so even though she sees that his apartment looks like the Red Sox gift shop, she doesn't begin to appreciate the extent of his obsession until spring. By then they're in love.

Ben inherited great season tickets from his uncle and hasn't missed a game in Fenway Park in 11 years. He passes on meeting Lindsey's parents (James B. Sikking, JoBeth Williams) because he's going to Florida to watch spring training, and he can't go to Paris with her because it's the weekend the Seattle Mariners will be in town.

Someone who's seen virtually every movie released since he was five years old and who arranges his life around half a dozen screenings a week can hardly fault Ben for his obsession. It's even hard for Lindsey, who's described as a workaholic although we see more of her working out with her friends (Ione Skye, Marissa Jaret Winokur, KaDee Strickland) than working in her office.

Their romance follows a rocky road that appears to lead to a dead end, as it should in real life. The Red Sox also appear to be headed for a dead end, as in the 85 seasons since they won their last World Series. But the team pulled off a well-documented miracle last year, and the script was changed to incorporate it. As for love, doesn't it always conquer all in the movies?

SNL star Fallon still doesn't quite seem big enough for the big screen, but he's more agreeably teamed with Barrymore than with Queen Latifah, who blew him away in Taxi.

Fever Pitch gets off to a slow start and doesn't pick up much speed until after the first hour, but the ending is one of those surefire feel-good crowd-pleasers that will even send fans of the Yankees and Cardinals home happy.

It's not a perfect Pitch, but at least it doesn't strike out.