Wimbledon

(2004) ** Pg-13
98 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Richard Loncraine. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau, Bernard Hill.

Wimbledon—the latest widget from the Working Title romantic comedy factory—has a notably immersive sound mix. The hip music sounds smashing, as do the smashes, serves, and volleys of the tennis play. As the spectators applauded and hollered crisply out of the rear and side speakers, it hit me: I wouldn't be noticing the sound mix if this movie were any damn good. Wimbledon isn't much bad, either, but the generic parallel plots of sports-movie suspense and falling-in-love sap squeeze stars Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst together like so much peanut butter and jelly.

Bettany plays Peter Colt, a 31-year-old tennis geezer about to serve as Britain's wild card in the sudden-death crucible of Wimbledon. Before checking into a hotel for the tournament, Colt sadly commits to a job as a country-club tennis pro and checks in with his entitled, judgemental family: soul-deadened parents Bernard Hill and Eleanor Bron and dissolute brother James McAvoy, unrecognizable from his crackerjack role in Bright Young Things. Peter hooks up with American tennis prodigy Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst), and suddenly he's a contender. Of course, their love games include dodging Lizzie's protective father, played wastefully by the great Sam Neill. Jon Favreau shows up as the capricious agent who seemingly handles every tennis player in the tournament, but Favreau's main goal seems to be to round up guests for his IFC chat show Party of Five.

Since this is a Working Title Film, talented professionals queue up to act out implausible business (like Bettany accidentally hitting on Neill over the phone), but in the absence of Richard Curtis, the dialogue can descend into the unspeakable ("'Love' means 'nothing' in tennis—zero"). Director Richard Loncraine (Richard III), with the help of cinematographer Darius Khondji (Se7en), shoots and edits Wimbledon as if it were a travel advert. Bettany and Dunst give the movie their all, but the course of their characters' relationship rings entirely false. The uses of good-luck charms, superstition, and a comet as plot points serve as supposed reminders of love's magic but utterly lack conviction, and after all, who wants a mechanical romantic comedy which skimps on the comedy?

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