Starring: Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau
Director: Richard Loncraine
The biggest honor in any tennis player’s career is making an appearance at Wimbledon, and while it shares the honor as the sport’s World Series with three other grand slam tournaments, it is one of the most talked about sporting events of the year. It seems only fitting that the British grand slam act as the focal point for one of the few tennis films ever made, and although tennis is about as popular as soccer in the States, the film provides a brilliant insider’s look at the adrenaline-threaded action of the sport.
Paul Bettany steps up into leading man status as Peter Colt, a once-great British tennis star whose unimpressive 119th world ranking hasn’t stopped him from receiving the wild-card entry into his final Wimbledon tournament. On the other side of the spectrum is Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), the newest American golden girl who has arrived at her first Wimbledon with her eye on first prize. Introductions are quickly made between the two players after Peter accidentally walks in on a half-nude Lizzie and they abruptly engage in a love affair that’s only meant to last the weekend. The problem is Lizzie appears to have become Peter’s latest inspiration, and instead of losing in the first round, he jumpstarts a winning streak that quickly takes him through the tournament as a surprise contender.
Previously admired by audiences for amusing supporting-role performances in “A Knight’s Tale” and “Master and Commander,” Paul Bettany is a joy to watch on screen. He also reportedly trained for months to get in shape for the role and has certainly sculpted himself into a convincing tennis pro. It’s a shame that I can’t say the same for “Spider-Man” star Kirsten Dunst, who is just a bit too refined to portray the strict and inexperienced tennis star with a performance a little too reminiscent of her Mary Jane.
“Wimbledon” is extremely formulaic and predictable, but since when has that been a problem in American cinema? Presented by the same producers of incredibly successful British comedies like “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” director Richard Loncraine makes sure to include the same peculiar humor that set apart the aforementioned films from other comedies, but it won’t necessarily have the audience rolling around on the floor with laughter. It also isn’t much of a romantic comedy either, because the unstructured love story eventually takes a back seat to the more stimulating underdog story of Peter Colt. In the style of other great sports films like “The Longest Yard,” “Major League” and “Rudy,” “Wimbledon” is just more enjoyable as a dramatic sports film. It has a hopper full of jokes and a few kiss-and-tell moments, but the on-court action is where all the excitement is.