"Fever Pitch" isn't a bad film; it's a terrible film.
Is it possible American movie audiences and critics are so numbed and lobotomized by the excrement that Hollywood churns out that they'll praise to the skies even a mediocre film with barely any laughs? That's the only reason I can think of why this horrible romantic comedy (and I use that term loosely because there's nothing funny in this film) is getting good reviews.
I sat through this film stunned that screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel would even for an instant think their script was funny.
The brilliant Nick Hornby usually translates well to film. He adapted "Fever Pitch" for a British film starring Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell in 1997; Peter Hedges found Hornby's voice for "About a Boy" (2002) and when "High Fidelity" was Americanized for a movie in 2000, writers D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg didn't go wrong because they kept the essence of Hornby's wit and humor. They made one of the best films of that year.
So why does the American version of "Fever Pitch" go so painfully awry? The British version wasn't a masterpiece, but it was charming, funny, unexpected and gave us two characters we could like, respect and understand.
But Ganz and Mandel have excised everything funny in Hornby's work. In Americanizing the story, they've butchered it, removing all that was good and unique about Hornby's work and replacing it with conventional drivel.
They've transformed a funny story into a formulaic romantic comedy, never once veering from the wretched formula. Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) has three girlfriends, each of whom has a distinct function. One's overweight, the second's cynical and ambitious, and the third's a romantic. Want to guess how many male friends Ben (Jimmy Fallon) has?
What made "High Fidelity" such fun was not only a good leading man and lady, but engaging supporting characters. In this "Fever Pitch," the six supporting friends do or say nothing especially funny. They're so insignificant, they're not even decorative. The only reason they're in the film is because the formula demands it. Poor Ione Skye winds up as one Lindsey's pals in a thankless role. The lovely Skye must have been wishing Lloyd Dobler would swoop in and take her away. Come to think of it, Cusack would've made an excellent Ben. Of course, Cusack is too smart to attach himself to such an utterly tedious script.
There isn't a single, solitary moment in this film that seems original or unforced. Every plot turn is predictable, every lame joke telegraphed. Ganz and Mandel labor for laughs. The first 45 minutes are so excruciatingly slow, you wonder if these chaps realized they were writing a comedy. You can mark the plot turns in this film by your watch. It's almost as if Ganz and Mandel penned this with some screen writing guru's formula pasted on the wall. When they got to a certain page, they looked up at the formula and said, "OK, the guru says this has to happen now." And, presto!
Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly don't help the film any. They have no concept how to introduce their story and characters (they hand over the V.O. narration not to the protagonist, but to another guy who sits behind Ben at Fenway Park). Thanks to some extremely clunky writing, we have to watch Barrymore and Fallon stumble through their unfunny initial meetings.
Barrymore does cute and adorable better than most. She's as good at it as Goldie Hawn in her heyday. But even her cuteness can't save this extraordinarily awful film. She tries hard to wring some energy and humor out of this story. About 30 minutes into the film, Lindsey tells Ben, "You're funny." The only explanation for her remark is that it was in the script. For Fallon's Ben never says anything even remotely funny. Fallon is neither witty nor funny; when he does comedy, he overacts.
Fallon was never any good on "Saturday Night Live." He was quite possibly the least funny person on that show. Remember that lame sketch about a radio DJ who did all the voices? The only reason "Weekend Update" worked occasionally was because Fallon's cohort, Tina Fey, knows a thing or two about comedy.
Actors who think they're funny and behave that way rarely, if ever, are actually funny. That's true of Fallon. He thinks he's hysterically funny when he barely raises a chuckle. His stuttering, unsure-of-himself shtick didn't work on the small screen; it's lousier on the big screen.
Unfortunately for Fallon, his role in this picture also requires a few dramatic moments. If you thought his comedy was bad, wait till you get a load of his dramatic stuff. Two scenes in particular - the first in a park, the second in front of Ben's school - are painful to watch. The scenes require an actor with a smidgen of dramatic ability, but Fallon has neither the knowledge nor the ability to make them work. His range of emotions doesn't even run the gamut from A to B.
Ben has no personality or depth. Often, he comes across as an oaf. And not a lovable one at that. It boggles the mind what Lindsey would find attractive about him. Compare Fallon's performance to Firth's in the British version, and you'll understand how terribly flat, unfunny and forced Fallon's Ben is and how wrong he is for this role. Watching Fallon in "Fever Pitch" makes one long for the dramatic depth and comedic nuance of Ashton Kutcher!
Just as "High Fidelity" did, an Americanized "Fever Pitch" could've worked brilliantly. It just needed better writers, more competent directors and, most definitely, a stronger, funnier, smarter leading man. Do yourself a huge favor: Avoid this rotten film; rent the 1997 British version and read Hornby's book, instead.
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