https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11606&reviewer=371

Tennis, Anyone...?

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/09/05 15:43:07

"Even TV stars can be miserable sometimes."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

There's no getting around that a chunk of "Tennis, Anyone..." is autobiographical. The thing that entertainment news addicts will remember as having actually happened doesn't happen until almost the very end of the movie, but even before before then, the film is filled with a number of characters, situations, and digressions that don't really become story-critical at any point. It hands together, though, doling out two funny bits for every philosophical one, and pulling together at the end.

Danny Macklin (Donal Logue) and Gary Morgan (Kirk Fox) are actors who meet up shooting a direct-to-video movie in Mexico. Danny's been at it longer and is at it full-time, while Gary has a day job as a tennis pro, having once been on the tour. Danny mentions that he used to play in high school, and they promise to stay friends after the movie wraps. They don't see each other until a year later, when Danny's got a popular sitcom and a failing marriage, and Gary suggests Danny join him at a celebrity tennis event. One of those leads to another, which leads to another, and another...

Logue and Fox not only star as fictionalized versions of themselves - the characters' backgrounds match those of the actors - but also served as producers, collaborating on the screenplay, with Logue directing. Friends and family show up in small roles. Since they made it well outside the studio system, they dodge the need to conform any specific template, and can leave in scenes that would be the first to hit the cutting room floor (I can see a studio executive yelling "what is all this 'RIA' stuff Gary's talking about his dad saying? And what's with the guy building a mountain?").

It does mean that the leads aren't, perhaps, as sharply defined as they would be in other movies. Logue and Fox are, for the most part, playing themselves, and when you're doing that, the temptation both when writing and acting is to put down what you'd do in real life. Thing is, people in real life are fuzzier than people created for a two-hour movie, so the characters don't necessarily have these very specific behaviors that the audience can identify and use as shorthand. This is a bigger problem with Logue's Danny than with Fox's Gary; Gary is the one who does wacky things like deciding his character should die in a scene, despite already having shot a later scene, or taking Danny to a strip club a week at a rather inopportune time. Danny's the straight man, getting put into ridiculous situations and flailing. Also, Danny's job as a sitcom lead, and thus the work-related stress, is a bit hard for most of us to grasp - fifty thousand dollars and episode probably sounds pretty good to most of us, but the job obviously only middling success in his chosen field. Rick used to be a pro tennis player, but we see him working at a country club and wanting to be an actor. It is, I think, easier to relate to trying to break in than having broken in.

The other characters they encounter on the "celebrity tennis circuit" have clearer purpose within the movie. Jason Isaacs's Johnnie Green is the villain, a hateful and arrogant sitcom star who has made the leap to features and is a little too "on" for the crowds. Kenneth Mitchell is his soap-star double partner. Stephen Dorff and Paul Rudd are tennis-loving stars of country music and pornography, respectively, and Maeve Quinlan is the former pro covering these events for The Tennis Channel. It's a joke on these celebrity charity events that it's always the same people at every event (kind of like John O'Hurley in the real world), and they come off as something between eccentric and pathetic.

It's a funny movie, though, with Danny seeming to find himself in a series of bizarre situations, from a disastrous stand-up bit where Green convinces him to dress in desert gear to tell racist jokes to the inevitable revelation of just who his wife was sleeping with. It's astonishing how grounded this movie is, with its Hollywood setting and string of weird incidents. Credit to Logue and Fox for hitting a nice balance.

And, most amazingly, no-one takes a tennis ball to the groin until the last act. That it happens is predictable, but satisfying.

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