Wimbledon--a romantic tale about a washed-up tennis player finding love with an on-the-rise tennis star--unfortunately elicits about as much excitement as watching a video match of Pong. Point. Set. Match.
Love means never having to say you're sorry; it's a many splendored thing; it's all you need. But in tennis, love means zero; it means you lose. Or does it? For Peter Colt (Paul Bettany), a British pro tennis player seeded near the bottom of the world tennis ranks, love actually inspires him. After scoring a wild card to play in the prestigious Wimbledon tournament, he meets and falls for the rising and highly competitive American tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), fueling a winning streak he hasn't had since he began his career. For Lizzie, however, the love thing doesn't necessarily work out as well. Her feelings for Peter become a distraction, throwing her off her game. Hmmm. Can these two crazy kids keep it together long enough so Peter can fulfill his lifelong dream of winning the men's singles title, even if it means his muse might have to sacrifice her first Wimbledon title?
Kirsten Dunst may be what draws you in but Paul Bettany is the reason you don't walk out. The British actor, who made an impression with American audiences playing the oh-so-witty Chaucer in A Knight's Tale and then wowed them in Oscar winners such as A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander, doesn't disappoint in his first lead role. Bettany's Peter embodies all that charm we've come to love and expect in our British actors--although thankfully not as floppy as Hugh Grant--he stumbles about and apologizes profusely. It's so cute. And he makes a pretty darn believable tennis player to boot (one would hope so after the intense training session the actors apparently had to go through to prepare for the movie). Unfortunately, Dunst does not fare as well. Her Lizzie is appealing, and she adequately handles the tennis stuff--but she ultimately fails to connect with her male lead, making their relationship seem forced. Their beginning sparks are fun but when there's suppose to be a real flame igniting between them, you're left scratching your head, wondering just when, where and why they fell in love so hard, so fast. Yep, that's a big red flag.
I've said sports movies usually work (see the Mr. 3000 review). To clarify: That is, team sports. Sport movies where the action revolves around a single competitor are harder to pull off. It's just not as exciting watching an underdog struggle with himself in order to win. Luckily, director Richard Loncraine (HBO's My House in Umbria) seems to know this fact. Even though Peter takes Centre Court (that's the British way of spelling it), Loncraine tries to at least create a more complete picture, giving us a glimpse into the world of tennis as well as delving into the traditions of Wimbledon and how the Brits feel about the prestigious tournament, where British champions are few and far between. Loncraine also utilizes real-life tennis pros, such as John McEnroe and Chris Evert, who appear as announcers, to liven up the proceedings. Even the action on the court, with close-up shots of the ball whizzing over the net, gets the blood pumping a little--wish there was a lot more of that. But then, of course, one could just turn on the TV and watch the real Wimbledon, instead watching a silly, run-of-the-mill romantic comedy set there.
Even with an appealing Paul Bettany on the back line, Wimbledon's cross-court love match mostly fumbles along rather than running up to the net for the kill shot. (How about that for a bunch of tennis clichés?)