by Laura Kyle
From the executive producer of NOTTING HILL, BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, ABOUT A BOY, and LOVE ACTUALLY, comes another light-hearted British comedy, WIMBLEDON. But this time it isn't Hugh Grant as the bumbling Englishman, it's Paul Bettany, veteran stage actor and Russell Crowe's co-star in A BEAUTIFUL MIND and MASTER AND COMMANDER: FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD. Bettany isn't the only element that distinguishes WIMBLEDON from its peers. Wimbledon is about tennis, and isn't written by master Richard Curtis.Bettany plays Peter Colt, a tennis player once ranked 11th in the world, but due to habits of choking on the court, managed to slide down to the rank of 157th. Before retiring to coach tennis to a company of eager older ladies, he gives the game one last chance at the historical Wimbledon Championship set in the United Kingdom, and in the process meets fellow competitor Lizzie Bradbury, played by Kirsten Dunst, who can't stand to lose a match. She is as aggressive on the court as she is in seducing Peter and when Peter starts to fall in love with her, he just may regain the winning inspiration he needs to break his losing streak. But the affair may have the reverse affect on the once focused Lizzie.
"English charm, Hollywood movie."
Unfortunately, while Wimbledon could have been an interesting romantic comedy with the background of a tennis championship, it turned out to be another formulated and limp film operating within the boundaries of genre, and is only saved by the onscreen appeal and crafted skill of Bettany.
Much like Hugh Grant, Bettany is very good as a verbally clumsy, though sincere and funny individual who must be changed by love and/or other circumstances. Bettany, who has only played supporting roles on the big screen, transitions into leading man status effortlessly, not neglecting a single detail such as a facial expression or mannerism that help define his character. While the movie as a whole is forgettable, this was a smart play by Bettany, who shows he can take a common cinematic formula and single-handedly turn it into decent storytelling.
Director Richard Loncraine boasts an impressive resume of made-for-television movies, but this is his first stab at a Hollywood-style sentimental romantic comedy. He does a nice job at building up to the suspense of Peter's final tennis match of the film, keeping the audience in his grip, although it could easily guess the outcome and he appears to juggle the romantic aspect with the sport fairly easily and with great pace. But even his stylish attempts could not mask the uninventive screenplay by writers Adam Brookes, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. They manage to make do with most of the dialogue and comedic bits, but their plot is as weak and unoriginal as you can get. Peter falls in love, wins a match, Lizzie falls in love, loses her concentration, which results in her getting mad at Peter, causing him to then falter on the court... and so on and so on. And lines like "In tennis, love means nothing," and "In this game, there is a winner and a loser," certainly don't help. There is no real narrative or universal theme that a moviegoer can take away from Wimbledon, merely the memory of a well-acted, sometimes touching and "cute", though ultimately dull plot. What should have been strictly a character driven underdog tale with an element of romance, something Bettany and Loncraine tried to achieve, ended up being an uncreative sports movie distracted by Dunst's character Lizzie.
While Dunst continues to demonstrate that she is in no way an amateur actress, moviegoers only believe Peter is in love with her because Bettany does a darn good job at pretending to be in love and after all, she is pretty. A subplot of Lizzie's relationship with her overbearing manager dad, played by Sam Neill, is of little concern to the audience, and isn't really a developed storyline any way.Actors like Jon Favreau, playing the self-seeking agent on the sidelines, aid in making Wimbledon a commendable cinematic effort, and Loncraine has created an entertaining means for Bettany to show off his acting chops. By word of mouth, girls will continue to file into the theater doors, sometimes accompanied by a helpless male, but it is disappointing that WIMBLEDON had to be one of the first seemingly American-esque English films.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10763&reviewer=369
originally posted: 09/19/04 05:12:16