The first in what would be an unintended comic trilogy on arrested development, Nick Hornby's hilarious confessional Fever Pitch (which was followed by the novels High Fidelity and About A Boy) wrestles with his consuming passion for Arsenal, a British soccer team that only rewards his devotion with misery. It seems a natural choice for an American adaptation to center on the Boston Red Sox, which finally ended 86 years of futility in the last World Series, but the only things the book and film have in common are the title and an interest in sports. By spinning Hornby's book into a romantic comedy, the diabolical writing team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers) lose the obsessive first-person so shrewdly captured by the film versions of High Fidelity and About A Boy. Without it, they miss the funny psychosis of caring deeply for something inessential, so enslaved by the endless trivia of roster changes, stat sheets, and inconsequential mid-season series that things like love and happiness become distant priorities.
Casting John Cusack or Hugh Grant might have helped. Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon hasn't gotten far in his nascent movie career, but his halting, tentative line-readings are more awkward than quirkyit's like being trapped at a party with a social leper. Playing a mild-mannered schoolteacher by day, Fallon seems like a pretty good catch for single women looking for a stable, sensitive partner, but once girlfriends witness the extent of his Red Sox mania, they always bail. When Fallon starts dating high-powered businesswoman Drew Barrymore, she seems to be the exception; she not only tolerates his fandom, but also accompanies him to Fenway and studies up on Sox lore. But her indulgence of "Summer Guy," the creature that replaces the loveable "Winter Guy" once spring training begins, sours when it becomes clear that Fallon's devotion to Barrymore has dropped one spot in the standings.
Once the gross-out maestros of Kingpin and There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers have softened considerably with recent efforts like Shallow Hal and Stuck On You, but their sensibility all but disappears into the generic rom-com trappings of Fever Pitch. The timing of the Red Sox's post-season triumph gives the film a lift, coinciding with an improbable and wildly romantic gesture that brings new meaning to the term "l'amour fou." Barrymore has rarely been so bright and effortlessly charming, but it's all lost on Fallon, who often resembles one of those unfortunate SNL guests who freeze up on live TV, completely out of their element. If Fallon wants a life after SNL, he might want to try another medium.