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Farrelly Brothers go soft with ‘Fever Pitch’

Barrymore and Fallon star in this comedy about an obsessed sports fan. By John Hartl

Nick Hornby’s 1992 autobiography, “Fever Pitch,” was first filmed eight years ago as a modest British comedy-drama starring Colin Firth. Now there’s a major-studio Americanized version, directed by the Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter, who have turned it into their tamest, most conventional movie to date.

Gone are the calculated outrages of “There’s Something About Mary” and “Me, Myself and Irene.” Designed as a date movie and a showcase for Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore (who co-produced it), the new picture lands safely in PG-13 territory.

The result is likely to disappoint Farrelly fans while leaving general audiences baffled and possibly bored. The focus is on male sports obsession, which certainly has rich comic potential, but it’s handled in such an obvious and monotonous manner that the subject is exhausted long before the movie’s 101 minutes are up.

The soccer of the original story has been replaced by baseball, and the location has been moved to Boston. Firth’s sports-crazed schoolteacher has been taken over by Fallon’s obsessed Red Sox fan, Ben, who teaches high-school geometry.

His chosen vocation is as hard to buy as the office antics of Lindsey, Barrymore’s character. She’s established early on as the kind of “successful businesswoman” who waltzes in and out of work, constantly winning praise from bosses and clients, for reasons that are quite unfathomable. She seems to be living out a 1950s career-woman fantasy, yet she’s mostly a doormat where Ben is concerned.

In spite of her misgivings about his infatuation with the Boston team — he decorates his bathroom with Red Sox towels and Yankees toilet paper — Lindsey gives herself wholeheartedly to following Ben wherever he’s following the players. She mocks other women who can’t get into the team spirit, and she seems comfortable joining Ben’s closeknit “family” of fans at the games.

Eventually she grows tired of competing with Ben’s fixation, though her attempts to confront him lead to an unbalanced form of compromise. He mostly gets his way, and she puts up with it. There’s something inherently creepy about their bonding, and nothing Barrymore or Fallon do can make it convincing.

This kind of relationship fares better as the basis for drama than it does as an inspiration for feature-length comedy. The Farrellys, directing a script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (“Splash”), don’t seem to have decided what kind of movie they’re making. The baseball stadium scenes, with their emphasis on a cute kid squeakily singing the national anthem and adults gorging on roasted peanuts, come across as canned Americana. So do most of the episodes with Ben and his baseball family.

The Farrellys do try to keep the picture moving forward, throwing choice comic bits to KaDee Strickland (as Lindsey’s competitive pal) and JoBeth Williams (as Lindsey’s mother); they sometimes rescue it from its plodding moments. But the one-note nature of the story, which quickly proves that it has nowhere to go that it hasn’t already taken us, eventually drags everything down with it.