Fever Pitch Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
April 25th, 2005

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Fever Pitch was, originally, a book written by Nick Hornby, who you may remember as the author of such page-to-screen films as High Fidelity and About a Boy. The story was a semi-autobiographical take on Hornby's lifelong dedication to the support of Arsenal, a football/soccer team from Highbury, London. As he did with Fidelity and Boy, Hornby spun his woeful account of following the title-less Gunners in first person, which often provides a major stumbling block whenever somebody attempts to adapt the story into a major motion picture.

Enter the first theatrical version of Fever Pitch, an early 1997 release in the UK that didn't hit these shores until late 1999. Despite Hornby's growing popularity, the presence of Colin Firth as the author's surrogate, and the addition of a US-friendly romantic bend to the plot, the picture came and went in the bat of an eye, earning way less than the toupee budget from Miss Congeniality 2, and not playing in many theatres outside of New York and Los Angeles Turns out American audiences hate soccer more than they like romantic comedies, though in their defense, the film was kinda dull - and I'm a big footy fan. The things that made the book so interesting - Hornby's painstakingly painful recreation of a decade-plus of Arsenal's heartbreaking losses juxtaposed with key events in his life - were lost in the movie, which focused most of its sport-related efforts only on the team's 1989 season.

I know it's difficult to believe, what with The Office debuting just a few weeks ago, but the US-version of Pitch is even more watered down than the British take. The film is just a thin shell of Hornby's original work, with a typical threadbare rom-com shoehorned into it, like an ugly eight-hundred pound monster trying to cram itself into a cheap size 30 jacket. The first person narrative, which was so useful as a window into the protagonist's crazy mind, is replaced with a conventional third person voiceover. Football is replaced with baseball, making the Red Sox as the obvious choice to replace Arsenal, given their unequaled ability to lose and their physical proximity to the birthplace of filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly (Stuck on You). Firth, an award-winning actor who has played Hamlet and King Lear on stage, is replaced with Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon, a Yankees fan who has never shown the slightest inkling of acting talent (unless you count failing to make it through any skit without laughing). Real screenwriters were told they need not apply, because the team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Father's Day, City Slickers, Robots) were already on the case, mucking things up.

You already know the story: Boy meets Girl, loses her, and then gets her back. So Pitch's outcome isn't going to come as too much of a surprise to anyone, even if you've just woken from a coma and missed hearing the news about Boston winning last year's World Series for the first time in nearly 90 years, or didn't see Fallon and Drew Barrymore prancing around the field when it finally happened. It's genuinely boring to watch films without conflict, or some kind of protagonist, or even just a fleeting sense of not knowing how every scene is going to play out in minute detail. And that's exactly what you get with Pitch. The crux of Hornby's story of blind loyalty at all cost has been reduced to watching a guy sleep on Red Sox sheets, and drying himself off with Red Sox towels. Aside from a whopping 15 seconds spent discussing "The Curse," and a fleeting reference to Pesky's Pole (forget about getting an explanation for Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline"), this one doesn't really spend much time on the important sport aspect of the tale.

On the plus side, the Farrelly brothers continue their penchant for making their stars look their absolute worst, if not straight out poking fun at their physical foibles. This is their first film in a while to not showcase retards or freaks of any kind (unless you count Fallon amongst their ranks). But Pitch follows their sad trajectory from hysterical fare like Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin to edge-free conventional dreck, albeit with a heart of gold. And if you wanted that, you'd just go to Beauty Shop.

1:41 - for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality

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