- Movie Rating -

Fever Pitch (1985)

| November 22, 1985

After seeing Richard Brooks’ Fever Pitch I got the very strange feeling that I had missed something.  Maybe, I thought, my normally perceptive brain had switched off for a second and I had missed a plot point because what I was seeing could not possibly have come from the pen of a professional filmmaker.

Ryan O’Neal plays Steve Taggart, a L O’Neal plays Steven Taggart a Los Angelas sports writer who fast-talks his editor into letting him do an investigation on compulsive gambling.  He heads to Vegas where he checks into the MGM Grand and starts talking to the high rollers and the low rollers.  Turns out that this assignment was not the best fit for Mr. Taggart since he is, himself, a compulsive gambler.  Given that we are not surprised that he quickly gets into trouble.  He loses not only his daughter’s trust fund but also the money that he needed to pay back some juice loan guys.

He realizes that he has a problem and he seeks out Gambler’s Anonymous.  Okay, great.  Now he can face his problem.  G.A. forces him to face his problem and he is able to say the magic words.  The head of the group explains the purpose of the meeting in stiff and stilted dialogue that sounds like a commercial for Gambler’s Anonymous.  Okay, so he’s on his way to recovery.  Right?

Here is where the movie lost me.

On his way back to L.A. Steve spots a slot machine, tries his hand and wins big.  Hoo-HA! – his luck has changed!  He takes his winnings back to the casino and bets it all and wins back the money that he needed for the loan and to repay his daughter’s trust fund.  Then he holds his lucky dice aloft like a sacred jewel.  He then exists the casino determined never to gamble again.

What?!  Did I miss a beat?  Is this movie really saying that the best way to beat a gambling addiction is to gamble enough to win back your loses and then quit?  Was there some dialogue that I missed, because surely the movie can’t be that short-sighted, that grossly incompetent?  I asked a friend of mine to help me out with this, and he assured me that I hadn’t missed a thing.  This movie is seriously stating that the best way to deal with gambling is to win back your loses and then quit.  If that were the case then there wouldn’t be any gambling addicts.  I was stunned.  I was absolutely stunned that this was the message.  That’s an irresponsible message and a thumb in the eye to the name of Gambler’s Anonymous.

But to be honest, even if the movie were dealing in the stark reality of gambling addiction, this would still be a bad movie.  Everyone talks in clipped, stiff dialogue like Brooks is trying to recapture some of the feel of the movies he made in the 40s.  It might have worked with a steady hand but how am I supposed to take it seriously?  Example: Catherine Hicks is a casino waitress who doubles as a hotel hooker.  She meets up with O’Neal in his hotel room where she sits on her bed and explains the lure of gambling:

“Happens suddenly.  You know it.  Deep down.  Gut feeling.  This is the day.  This time I’m gonna hit it big – I can’t lose.  Horses, kino, slots, craps, blackjack, football.  Give the points, take the points.
Overlays, underdogs.  Bust the bookies.  Nothing like it.  Right?  Power right?  Damn right, and I know it. I’m it.  The winner.  I am the one.”

It should be mentioned that this ridiculous dialogue is played over an increasing 40s-style saxophone solo.  It might have been more appropriate to end with a rimshot, or at least O’Neal asking “Why are you talking like that?”

The dialogue is only accented by some ridiculous scenes that are just plain goofy.  My favorite is a meeting between O’Neal and the mobsters.  He gets a phone call and gets some bad news about his wife.  He turns to the mob guys and begins swinging the phone around by the cord while shouting “She’s hurt!  She’s hurt!”  How was I suppose to take this seriously?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Drama