A classic Brit-flop
It’s a pity that not even Paul Bettany’s ace performance can make “Wimbledon” a winner.After all, few other sporting events afford a romantic comedy as many good opportunities as fortnight of tennis in London. Not only is there the rich and living history of bold Brits, American brats and Russian supermodels, but really, no other game offers as close a parallel to the sweet-and-sour, one-on-one repartee of a relationship.
The possibilities of mixing leads from the men’s and women’s draws into a courtside romance are delicious – think “Tin Cup,” only full of strawberries and cream. Instead, we get Kirsten Dunst’s platitude about how “love” in tennis translates to nothing, and a movie almost as bland as five sets of Michael Chang. Or an English muffin.Bettany (Russell Crowe’s second banana in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Master and Commander”) looks like the weak link in a cast featuring Dunst as cute tennis prodigy Lizzie Bradbury, Sam Neill as her dad, and John McEnroe, Chris Evert and a bunch of real tennis officials playing themselves. Rush the ‘Net, and he looks like even more of an underdog: According to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Hugh Grant was supposed to play journeyman tennis pro Peter Cole instead of Bettany.Except for a charmingly awkward flirtation at the beginning of the movie, Bettany and Dunst have about as much chemistry as Chang and Ivan Lendl. But be thankful. With Bettany’s understated wit and charm filling the lead role, “Wimbledon” is merely dumb and clunky. With Grant’s practiced foppishness, it might have been excruciating.
Bettany and James McAvoy, who plays his younger brother, account for most of the personality in “Wimbledon,” and they both deserve a better script. The premise of a creaky British tennis star making a last run at a Grand Slam title right at home in Jolly Old might not be quite as alluring a possibility as that of a serve-and-volley relationship with another player. But “Wimbledon” practically begs for a scriptwriter to liven it up with the kind of sports-mad Anglophilia that Hollywood leaches out of Nick Hornby books.
It all adds up to less than I had hoped for from storied Centre Court. Better make it a (British) aisle seat.Dan Thomas is a copy editor at the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News.
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