Wimbledon Movie Review

Unless you play the sport, tennis ranks right up there with golf as one of the most boring sports to watch on television. And with a few minor exceptions, the same can be said about these sports' big screen counterparts. Anticipating that Wimbledon would serve up little more than a predictable romantic comedy, I hoped the film's setting would provide a few more aces than foot faults to compensate. Much to my surprise, Wimbledon exceeds meager expectations.

As the world's 119th ranked player, a tired Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) has long been the doormat for the younger, flashier players on the professional tennis circuit. But when Peter gets an unexpected wild-card invite to play at Wimbledon, few give him any chance of making it out of the first round - including himself and his brother who wagers against him with a local bookie.

Making waves at this year's Wimbledon is the hot, young American sensation Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst). On the court, she's in top form, and focused to win yet another championship (think Serena Williams). Off the court, Lizzie (think Anna Kournikova with better diction skills) likes to party and have much more fun than her coddling father (Sam Neill) would like.

An immediate connection is formed between these tennis opposites when both end up with keys to the same hotel room. Peter loses the room, but with Lizzie, gains the inspirational boost he needs to turn his life and game around. Suddenly, Peter starts winning the tennis matches he's supposed to lose, and he quickly becomes the sentimental favorite of Londoners. Off the court, the unlikely pair is seen strolling through the streets of London, jogging along the coast, and avoiding her father and the gossip hungry press.

Lizzie and Peter look great together, but how do they have time for all these activities off the court? Based on the film's uneven pacing, you'd think Wimbledon lasts for months, not a few weeks. Also, I find it hard to believe that anyone ranked as high as Lizzie would even know, let alone give the time of day to, someone like Peter. Lizzie's character is so narrowly drawn that we're never really sure what she wants, or why she's with him. As the world's top female player, you'd think she could do better than this chump.

Fortunately for Wimbledon, there's plenty of great supporting material that helps mitigate these objections. To give the film a more authentic look, the tennis scenes were actually filmed at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club during the 2003 Wimbledon Championships. Under the eye of former Wimbledon champ Pat Cash, the tennis strokes are pitch perfect. Director Richard Loncraine successfully employs a variety of CGI effects and camera trickery inspired by TV commercial work to make the tennis matches look far more appealing and exciting than ever before.

Wimbledon is also backed by solid casting. Bettany (Master and Commander) gives Peter an affecting charisma that allows us to easily identify with his fears and desires. Dunst's high-strung Lizzie proves a fitting compliment to Peter's affable nature. Quirky supporting roles include Eleanor Bron and Bernard Hill as Peter's indifferent, but loveable parents, and Jon Favreau as Peter's distant sports agent who reappears to get him second-rate product endorsements.

Too bad the real Wimbledon never looks this interesting.

DVD includes a commentary track from Loncraine and Bettany, plus a volleying of featurettes, with special attention to Wimbledon's well-masked CGI.

See Kirsten serve.


Wimbledon Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2004


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