With Opening Day upon us, SoSH Baseball takes once last glance at the 2014 season. After the glory of 2013’s World Series title, the fall to last place was far indeed. Dan Ennis explores the folly of relying on what came before.
The 2005 comedy Fever Pitch, filmed during the 2004 baseball season, took advantage of an improbable Red Sox championship and ended with the two leads making out amidst a delirious on-field celebration. That film, based on the eponymous Nick Hornby book and 1997 British film about English Premier League soccer, hinged upon the romcom appeal of Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, and became a surprise minor hit for the Farrelly Brothers. It stands as a cloying monument to great timing and good old fashioned dumb luck.
Ten years later, Fox Pictures, plagued by international scandal and desperately in need of another unlikely hit, will unveil the Opening Day release of Fever Pitch Two: Full Count as the struggling studio’s first swing in the 2015 summer movie batting cage. Filming during the 2014 baseball season, producers Wally Rehg and Clyde Engle (the Farrellys declined involvement) were no doubt hoping that a decade later the magic would return, but instead we left with a poignant reminder that there will never be another 2004.
It doesn’t help this let’s-get-the-band-back-together exercise when the band doesn’t show up. Fallon is now happily ensconced behind the Tonight Show desk, so boyish Sox fanatic Ben Wrightman is played by Adam Scott. Scott is a better actor than this film deserves, but the wrong man for a part originally built upon Fallon’s fratty enthusiasm and baby seal vulnerability. Likewise, Barrymore’s Lindsey Meeks is miscast, with Toni Collette uttering defeat with her very first exasperated sigh.
The flop sweat that soaks Fever Pitch Two: Full Count is most apparent in the decision to build the sequel around a throwaway line from the end of the original, a reveal that Ben and Lindsey’s future offspring will be named – wait for it – Ted and Carl(a). In the sequel, ten-year-old Ted (Nickelodeon’s Hal Janvrin) has become – gasp! – a Yankee fan, and a one-note joke is launched by a montage (set, inevitably, to Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun”) of Ben’s failed attempts to dress the boy in Red Sox gear.
The viewer is asked to believe that young Ted is oppressed by his father’s Sox passion, ostensibly recalling Ben’s own complicated relationship between family and fandom and its role in his coping with the separation of his parents; the stage is clearly set for an emotional look at his relationship with his own son through that same device. And yet the boy’s Yankees fandom is played for laughs, culminating in an unfortunate Derek Jeter bobblehead sight gag.
The mother-daughter dynamic is similarly forehead smacking. (Yes, this is a feature in which the boys have one plot and the girls have a separate one, with the two halves hurriedly bolted together in the final reel.) Lindsey’s career has been derailed by the needs of her children (not to mention 81 home games per year) and eight-year-old Carla (Vean Gregg, late of the recent Annie remake) catches the brunt of her mother’s resentment. The eight screenwriters (eight screenwriters out?) who labored on this mess must have sensed the doomy vibe, so Lindsay’s conversion from high-powered exec to Erma Bombeck is goosed with physical comedy. Colette is game, but there’s not much joy in her laundry mishaps and overdone casseroles – even when her offensive brick of burned macaroni is greeted with the expletive “Bucky Bleeping Dent!”
Just as the original was unexpectedly buoyed by the 2004 Red Sox miracle, this film is weighed down by the 2014 team’s undistinguished campaign. The actual Red Sox season which bootstraps this flaccid sequel was neither disastrous enough to put the focus on the redeeming power of love, nor sufficiently thrilling to give the sluggish plot any momentum. Fever Pitch had David Ortiz going deep to help win a championship. Fever Pitch Two: Full Count milks Papi’s presence in a series of awkward cameos, but the appearance of the likable Sox DH merely serves to remind us that we’re all a decade older and there is no pennant this year.
A subplot revolves around the family’s increasingly pathological attempt to ignore, avoid, or deny the mediocre product on the field, with Carla lisping the catchphrase, “Not Buchholz Again!” no less than four times. Without a Red Sox World Series Championship to bail him out, director Pinch Thomas (last seen helming The Return of the Natural) resorts to a distasteful denouement in which all four members of the family, facing the autumn of their discontent after the Sox are eliminated in July, encounter Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara at a restaurant. The pitcher’s resulting monologue about how, in Japan, family is more important than the game (dubbed by an uncredited Ken Watanabe) injects just enough racism to render this film nearly unwatchable. Run, Ted, run! If this is Red Sox Nation ten years later, get thee to the Bronx.