Three stars

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Pass the popcorn. Fever Pitch, Hollywood's latest foray into the world of sport hits movie screens this weekend. This is the story of a man obsessed with his baseball team and the girl who learned to love them both.

In other words, it's fiction. A woman who can love a man in love with his sport is a rare treasure indeed -- an orchid in the tangled jungle of human relationships.

In Fever Pitch, Drew Barrymore plays the orchid, setting up the love triangle with a school teacher, Ben Wrightman (played by Jimmy Fallon), who takes his summers off to live and sigh with the Boston Red Sox. In a curious twist, directors Peter and Bob Farrelly had to change the ending when the Red Sox won the World Series. The film contains footage of the actors celebrating on the field with the Red Sox the night they won. That should make it a hit in Boston.

Anywhere else, and it sounds like no more than a summer time-waster for the tender-hearted.

No two professions have such a misplaced mutual admiration for each other than entertainers and professional athletes. Actors want to hit baseballs, play hoops or skate with Mark Messier while many an athlete fancies themselves in movies. That being the case, one might suppose Hollywood should have an illustrious history of portraying the sports genre. But, no.

Sports movies consist mostly of sappy scenarios, over-simplistic glorifications and unrealistic plots with bra-snapping humour. For every Million Dollar Baby there are far more busts, like Slap Shot II. Fever Pitch seems destined to fall somewhere between. Unlike with Hilary Swank it doesn't look like Oscar will find a date here.

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OSCAR WINNERS

Best Picture: Rocky (1976), Chariots of Fire (1981) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).

Best Actor: Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull, 1980).

Best Actress: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, 2004).

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LIGHTS, CAMERAS ... NEVER MIND

1. The Fan. An example of Hollywood's film-flam artists at work. It's about a sports nut who kidnaps his baseball hero's kid to make him play better. It doesn't work. Neither does the movie.

2. Angels In The Outfield. A baseball team is saved from mediocrity by angels. Great flick -- if you're under 10 years old.

3. Miracle On Ice, with Karl Malden. Worst action sequences ever filmed. The followup, Miracle, with Kurt Russell, is a good movie but with all the flag-waving you might have to be American to appreciate it.

4. Slap Shot. Controversial choice in this category. Cult classic that is either profanely hilarious or profanely juvenile -- depending on your sense of ha-ha. Loved best by those who are born with tuques and who think a great wedding gift consists of anything that comes in a two-four.

5. Hoop Dreams. Long night's journey into boredom. Docu-tale about two high-schoolers' struggle to become college basketball stars. Yawn. But maybe I was just having a bad day.

6. Driven. The next time Hollywood makes a good auto racing movie will be the first time.

7. Anything involving a hockey team named the Mighty Ducks.

8. Ladybugs. Rodney Dangerfield in drag tries to con a woman into sponsoring a school girl's soccer team. Now we know why Rodney got no respect.

9. Any movie with a number after the title.

10. Dishonorable mention: Days of Thunder, Any Given Sunday, the Bad News Bears going anywhere after their first movie, The Slugger's Wife.

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TEAR JERKERS

1. Brian's Song: Old Yeller for big people.

2. Field of Dreams. Again. Humour and magic and tissues.

3. Bang The Drum Slowly: Robert DeNiro. Misty-eyed tale about a baseball player with Hodgkin's disease.

4. Rudy. Synonym for corny. Shrimpy kid makes good his dream of playing for Notre Dame.

5. The Pride Of The Yankees. Gary (sob, sputter!) Cooper.

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GREATEST SPORTS LINES

1. "I believe in the soul ... the small of a woman's back, the hanging curveball, high fibre, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."

-- Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in Bull Durham.

2. "There's no crying in baseball!"

-- Manager Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own, after chewing out a player.

3. "Show me the money!"

-- Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire

4. "Juuuust a bit outside!"

-- Bob Uecker as colourman Harry Doyle in Major League. They're still looking for the ball .

5. "If you build it, he will come."

-- "The Voice" in Field of Dreams. And, then, a rich guy will buy it and name it after himself.

6. "People always say to me, 'When you get to the NBA, don't forget about me.' Well, I should've said back, 'If I don't make it to the NBA, don't you forget about me.' "

-- William Gates in Hoop Dreams.

7. "Billy, listen to me. White men can't jump."

-- Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) in White Men Can't Jump.

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AND THE WINNERS ARE ...

1. The Hustler: Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats with Paul Newman as Fast Eddie. It's more than 40 years old but a great script and solid performances make this a classic.

2. Field of Dreams: The best baseball fairy tale. The movie that elevated the stature of cornfields from emergency Johnny On The Spots to ethereal palaces.

3. Raging Bull: Brutal in its beauty. A bruising epic.

4. Bull Durham: Crash Davis and Annie give us a peek under the covers of baseball's minor leagues. For the eternal optimist in all former athletes.

5. Chariots of Fire: Slow paced. One for the academics. An intriguing view of a time when men would not compromise values for money or fame. True story of two men who become champions at the 1924 Olympics. A movie worth seeing just for its hauntingly, beautiful musical score.

6. Caddyshack: This could just as easily be on the "worst" list. It's not a movie so much as it is vehicle for some snortin'-good, soda-pop-through-the-nose one-liners.

7. Bend It Like Beckham: English. Tale of two young girls who conquer family prejudices and racial stereotyping and realize their dream of soccer stardom.

8. The Natural: Robert Redford. Whoever says there's no crying in baseball hasn't seen Roy Hobbs turn out the lights.

9. Rocky: Our salute to hokey.

Honorable mention: Dogtown, Z-Boys, Seabiscuit.


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