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'PITCH' PLAYS IT SAFE, SMART.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

'FEVER PITCH'' is a film for those who like their sports movies cuddly, for people who wonder what kind of hair conditioner Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon uses and for any sap who refuses to believe the maxim that ``there's no crying in baseball.''

That ``no crying'' line comes from ``A League of Their Own,'' the 1992 baseball chick flick written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell, who also happen to be the men behind ``Fever Pitch.'' The movie may be directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, but this is about as far from ``Kingpin'' territory as you can get. It's safe, it's sentimental and, more often than not, likable, breezy fun.

In a way, Ganz and Mandell have taken Nick Hornby's mid-'90s novel (which was already made into a movie eight years ago in England with Colin Firth in the lead role) and turned it into an episode of ``The Odd Couple,'' which is not surprising since they used to write for the 1970s sitcom. In one corner, you have Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a high-school teacher who attracts the interest of workaholic career girl Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) because he's low-key, funny and oh-so-normal.

But the Ben that Lindsey has met is Winter Ben. Summer Ben is a rabid Red Sox fan who has season tickets to the perennial bridesmaid Boston team and, in one particular foaming-at-the-mouth moment, lists his priorities in the following order: Red Sox, sex, breathing.

The movie hinges on whether Lindsey can envision a life that includes both Bens and whether Ben can possibly make any concessions toward the first woman remotely tolerant of his baseball obsession. What's refreshing is that the filmmakers don't make Ben look like a complete idiot when he blows off Lindsey because ``this is when they (the Sox) need me,'' nor are they willing to overlook the genuine insularity that is Ben's life.

When push comes to shove, Ben asks Lindsey, ``Is there anything in your life that you've loved for 23 years?'' Ouch. For Ben, this isn't just baseball. It's family. It's life. The question: Can Ben make his life big enough for more than one passion?

The Farrellys, good New England boys that they are, revel in the baseball minutiae, right down to an opening flashback scene at Fenway Park that shows '70s stars Dwight Evans and Jim Rice during batting practice. (That really is Rice and Evans. The makeup guy deserves an Oscar.)

Sometimes the Farrellys lay the Red Sox lore on a bit thick, especially since the gutty little BoSox could hardly be considered an underdog last year, given a $130 million payroll. You want true misery? Head to Cleveland. But then ``Major League'' already covered that. And the Indians still haven't won the World Series.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

FEVER PITCH - Three stars

(PG-13: language, sexual content.)

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon.

Director: Peter and Bobby Farrelly.

Running time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: A baseball movie with crying.

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Red Sox fanatic Jimmy Fallon and workaholic Drew Barrymore make strange bedfellows in ``Fever Pitch.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 8, 2005
Words:528
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