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In the eyes of many fans, film covers all the bases

At a sold-out sneak preview of ''Fever Pitch" in Danvers last weekend, audience members roared at a line about Jimmy Fallon's character using New York Yankees toilet paper.

Jokes about Ted Williams, ''No, No Nanette," and Roger Moret got big laughs, too. So did a scene in which Fallon corrects his girlfriend, played by Drew Barrymore, on who'll be pitching for the Red Sox in an upcoming weekend series. Barrymore has other things on her mind at that moment -- the plot twist won't be revealed here -- but to the Sox-obsessed Fallon, nothing outweighs Curt Schilling's scheduled start on Friday, followed by Pedro Martinez on Saturday.

Inside baseball? Any more so, and you'd need a Rotisserie League handbook to decode some of the film's scenes. That's reason enough, perhaps, why moviegoers like Jackie Gray of Lynn and Bob Barthelmes of Beverly, both devout Red Sox fans, walked out of the Danvers screening withManny-size grins on their faces.

''It was really good, and not too schmaltzy," declared Gray, who is familiar with both the film ''Fever Pitch" and the book from which it's adapted. The Fenway Park scenes were dynamite, Gray said. ''They brought you right there, like you're sitting in the ballpark."

Barthelmes, who attended the screening with his wife and daughters, wanted to catch ''Fever Pitch" before Opening Day -- to close out last year's championship season, he explained. No one in his crew was disappointed.

''We were pleasantly surprised, because Farrelly brothers movies usually get panned by the critics," Barthelmes noted. The Sox-centric story line could have overpowered the romantic comedy angle but did not, he added.

His wife, Mary, agreed. ''I loved how they wove together the two story lines, the romance and love of baseball," she said. ''Any fan of any sports team should find it funny."

Daughters Elizabeth, 16, and Rachael, 12, flashed two more thumbs up. ''I liked it better than most Farrelly brothers films," Elizabeth said. ''And if you're a Red Sox fan, it's that much better."

Her reaction helps answer a key question facing ''Fever Pitch" as it opens nationwide this week. If you're not a Red Sox fan, or a sports fan of any kind, is the movie funny enough and affecting enough to pull you in? Based on opinion sampled after the Danvers screening, all signs point toward a solid extra-base hit for the Farrellys, if not a grand slam.

''National appeal? Oh, I think so," said John Moulton, an attorney from North Reading. ''Any fan chasing a dream can relate to Jimmy Fallon. Plus, Fallon and Barrymore have a chemistry together that's very believable."

Praising the soundtrack and cinematography as particularly inspired, Moulton, a Sox diehard who sat at Fenway during one of the games filmed for the movie, went on to say his 13-year-old daughter wanted to see the film again right away, ''which is a pretty good indication of how well it works," he offered.

Rita Regan, a teacher's assistant from Lowell, likewise predicted ''Fever Pitch" would be a hit outside Red Sox Nation.

''First of all, it's hilarious," said Regan, more a casual fan than a Sox diehard. Her favorite scene? When Fallon receives his allotment of season tickets and invites his buddies over, whereupon he forces them to dance if they want a share of any Sox-Yankees games.

''The rest of the country will get into it because it's a good movie, period," said Regan, noting that Sox fans are scattered from one coast to the other. ''Also, it's not too long or too short," she continued, ''so it holds your attention."

Among the last to exit the screening was Scott Severance, an actor-director from Exeter, N.H., who was seeing ''Fever Pitch" for the first time. His opinion could hardly be construed as objective. Cast in his very first movie role, Severance plays one of Fallon's Fenway seatmates, earning him several lines of dialogue and more screen time than Johnny Damon.

Nevertheless, Severance insisted he was being a critic, not a cast member, in saying the finished movie exceeded expectations.

''There's no way to know if Yankee fans will like it, much less whether the whole country will," Severance acknowledged. ''But I honestly, thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It's not a 'jock flick.' It's a real, honest, funny love story."

If he had any misgivings, Severance added, they had to do with the filmmakers cutting out some of the inside-baseball stuff. One line in particular, he said, would have been fun to keep. It was a line Severance himself suggested for the pivotal scene where Barrymore races across the Fenway diamond to stop Fallon from carrying out a drastic act on her behalf.

In real life, Severance noted, Barrymore would have been tackled by the ballpark cops and immediately taken away. In the movie, however, she buys herself a few moments to try to smooth things over with Fallon.

''I suggested she turn to the cops and say, 'Don't touch me! I'm Curt Schilling's podiatrist!' " Severance recalled with a laugh. The Farrellys loved the line and shot it, he said, ''but I guess it was too much of an in-joke to keep."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

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