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Fever Pitch (1997)

Paul Ashworth, a mild-mannered English teacher in London, loves a good soccer game. ''You see all those thousands of faces contorted with fear and hope,'' he explains to his new girlfriend, Sarah Hughes. ''Just for those few minutes you're at the center of the whole world. And the fact that you care so much, the noise you've made has been such a crucial part of it, is what makes it special.'' Not only that, but ''the great thing is that it comes around again and again and again.''

That's just what Sarah is afraid of.

Paul (Colin Firth) and Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) are the protagonists of ''Fever Pitch,'' a curious, somewhat awkward film based on Nick Hornby's best-selling memoir of the same name. Proving yet again that just because a first-person analysis of a sociocultural phenomenon is fascinating in print, it should not necessarily be turned into a movie.

Mr. Hornby's explanations of the psychology and sociology of sports fandom are interesting, but they aren't integrated into the action and emotion of the story. ''Fever Pitch,'' the movie, is a standard-issue love story between two characters with different tastes and personalities. He's too devoted to soccer (when they go house-hunting, he even wants to live near the field), and she's bored by it. He has, in fact, been a fan of a particular London team, Arsenal, since he was a boy (shown in flashbacks to the late 1960's and early 70's), and that team now has a chance at the championship. Will the team win? Will Paul's obsession drive him and Sarah apart?

When the championship game ends and people take to the streets to express their feelings, the filmmakers seem to think they've captured some intense communal experience that moviegoers will feel strongly about. But the fans haven't developed or lost greater moral character. They haven't been tested; the team has. If you don't know the team, and the film keeps its distance from Arsenal, what's to cheer or cry about?

''Fever Pitch'' is at its best when it's analyzing. ''Maybe there's a big bit of you that's gone missing,'' Paul tells Sarah after she has essentially told him to get over his childhood dream about the team's success. ''Maybe everyone should want something they've always wanted.'' But even a 97-minute string of affirmations wouldn't add up to an affecting film.