May 12, 2006 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 12, 2006 |


Wimbledon, the latest entry from the romantic-comedy factory Working Title, is basically a remake of their Notting Hill, only without the wit, the onscreen wattage of Julia Roberts, the sly boyish charm of Hugh Grant, or any of their on-screen chemistry. But it does have tennis, though the on-court action scenes are about as exhilarating as watching televised bowling.

Englishman Peter Colt (Paul Bettany), a generic tapped out 31-year old tennis player, has lost his mojo and slipped to 119th in the worldwide tennis rankings. At Wimbledon, where he’s playing his last professional matches before taking a job as a tennis instructor, he meets and falls in love with spunky American tennis pro Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst). Bradbury, unfortunately, is possessed with the divergent interests of a vigorous sex drive and a scowly overprotective father (Sam Neill), who believes that pre-game sexual high jinks mess with her serve.

What follows is about as ho-hum as you would imagine: Colt and Bradbury fall in love; Colt’s game improves; Bradbury’s falters; a cheeky Brit (James McAvoy) makes jokes that are meant to be funny because they are spoken in a British accent; and an abrasive American (Jon Favreau) makes abrasive American jokes.

Bettany, who was amusing in both A Knight’s Tale and A Beautiful Mind, is out of his element in Wimbledon, the element here being a role clearly meant for Hugh Grant, and Kirsten Dunst apparently decided to resurrect her obnoxious cheerleading character from Bring it On and add a weak John McEnroe temperament. Neither one can convincingly swing a tennis racket (which is probably why Dunst gets few on-court scenes), and the director (Richard Loncraine) has absolutely no idea how to dramatically pace a sports scene — the on-screen antics look more like an Andre Agassi camera commercial than an actual tennis match. Further, the final scenes are endless, and there are no cute trick-plays in tennis to save us from the boredom. Instead, we hang our heads and wait for the inevitable, wondering only if we’ll get the traditional victory celebration or the slightly more imaginative Tin Cup self-destruction.

Much of the problem, however, can be blamed squarely on the screenplay. While other Working Title productions use Richard Curtis, the guy who penned Love, Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, the company chose instead to use the writers of Practical Magic (Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin) this time, and the results show in lines like, “We all start life with a dream, don’t we?,” or “Sports is cruel.” The shoddy writing is particularly evidenced in Peter Colt’s on-court interior monologues, which are embarrassing to everyone involved.

More disappointing still is the fact that the writers failed to use any of the magical history of Wimbledon. Given that no Englishman has won Wimbledon since 1936, you’d think the writers would tap into the fact that Peter Colt is trying to break that streak. Instead, we get painfully standard play-by-play from Jon McEnroe, who sounds like he’s doing voiceover commentary for a video game.

Wimbledon does have the occasional funny scene, but most of those involve Jon Favreau, who finally found a an amusing role he didn’t have to write for himself. And certainly Wimbledon will no doubt have its fans, mostly people who drool over Kirsten Dunst (like, apparently, the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who has a creepy crush on Dunst), or moviegoers who find entertainment value in romantic fluff like Runaway Bride. Wimbledon isn’t offensive, it’s just formulaic and mediocre, and when you can watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Shaun of the Dead, or Hero instead, why settle for mediocre?

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

It's Like Notting Hill, Only It's No Damn Good.

Wimbledon / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()



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