Although tennis is meant to be a backdrop to a romantic tale in
the new movie “Wimbledon,” it ends up overstaying its
welcome on center court.

Beth Dykstra
Sure, Sure, Sure …

The story follows Peter Colt (Paul Bettany, “Master and
Commander: The Far Side of the World”), a washed-up tennis
player who decides that he’ll take a job at a tennis club
after he plays in his last tournament, Wimbledon. The audience
hears his commentary — an overly convenient device to force a
back-story — on how he’s too old to play, along with
his views on the nature of champions and what it means to win. He
also narrates about how his parents don’t support him and how
they’ve grown to hate each other.

Arriving at his hotel at Wimbledon, an administrative mix up
lands him in the room of Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), a rising
star in the tennis world who’s quickly becoming notorious for
her aggressiveness, both in play and in dealing with the umpires.
Their meeting sparks an affair and catalyzes Peter’s on-court
prowess, launching him back into the tournament.

Knowing the premise of the movie, it was to be expected that the
creators would use the natural drama of the sport to an advantage,
but as the film progresses, they seem to use little else to support
the story. The side-story of the Colts, which, if it were properly
handled, could have added depth to the otherwise thin plot, is
aimless, serving no purpose in the greater scope of Peter’s
story. The writers miss a golden opportunity, wasting the talented
Bernard Hill (“Lord of the Rings”) and Eleanor Bron
(“Bedazzled”) in underdeveloped and frivolous parts.
The equally underused Sam Neill, as Dunst’s father Dennis, is
the classic overprotective father who disapproves of Lizzie’s
relationship with Peter, fearing she’ll lose focus because
she’s actually falling for him.

The initial meeting of Lizzie and Peter is a cute exchange,
showcasing Dunst’s lovability and Bettany’s subtlety.
After some witty banter, they meet for dinner. But the audience is
left hanging and told through various hints that they slept
together. This woeful pattern continues throughout the movie.
There’s a sense that the audience will get to see them spend
time together, see why they have chemistry at all, see why
they’re falling in love, but then it’s cut short and a
prompt retelling is included through Peter’s friend
character, Dieter Proll (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Black Hawk
Down”). The script allows for no natural unfolding of the
relationship; rather, it cuts forward to push them into falling in
love, forcing the plot on the characters rather than letting them
drive the story.

The performances of Bettany and Dunst are admirable considering
the weak material and paper-thin story, and their chemistry never
seems forced. But instead of building on their natural repartee,
the director, Richard Loncraine, pushes the tennis shots to the
forefront. Although some of the special effects are well done, the
constant shots centered on the ball and the comical last point of
the championship — which looks like Globetrotter choreography
— take away from a climax that is floundering from a lack of
honest tension. Peter’s rival and opponent in the final, A.J.
Hammond (Austin Nichols, “The Day After Tomorrow”), is
a complete jerk with no redeeming qualities of any sort. If not for
Peter’s agent Ron Roth’s (Jon Favreau) comic
embarrassment when his cell phone goes off during a crucial point,
and Dunst and Bettany’s emotional response in the final
scenes, the ending would have been even worse than the rest of the
film.

As a star vehicle for Dunst, akin to Julia Roberts’s
“Notting Hill,” she is terribly absent, appearing as
much as Coster-Waldau. Her character is rather one-dimensional
— she wants to win no matter what, and when she
doesn’t, she conveniently lashes out at Peter to temporarily
break them up before the formulaic reunion.

Loncraine squanders the potential of the actors and the
possibilities of the script. The complete predictability of every
situation leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied. The over use of
stock characters — the fighting parents, the overprotective
father, the selfish agent, the scummy rival — do little to
flesh out the ordinary story. This film, while attempting to be
both a romantic tale and a tennis movie, fails in both departments;
it lacks the proper development of a love story and the proper
suspense for a sports story.

 

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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