There are shades of originality showing up here and there in Wimbledon, which mixes some intriguing sports play with standard yet sweet romantic schlock. Paul Bettany, one of the movie world’s better supporting players as of late, shows that he has the chops to be a leading man while wielding a frequently impressive backhand return.
Bettany plays Peter Colt, a British tennis player coming to the end of his career, barely managing a wild card qualification at the famed tennis match of the movie’s title. Peter plans to make the tourney his last, and it looks as if he’ll retire from the game with little fanfare. He plans to make an admirable go of it, undoubtedly lose in an ugly way, and retire to a humiliating job as a posh country club’s tennis pro where he will get hit on by women twice his age.
All of this changes quickly when he sees Kirsten Dunst naked.
After getting the wrong hotel room key, Peter walks into fellow-player Lizzie Bradbury’s (Dunst) suite and gets a peek at her in the shower (Calm down, everybody … the view is obscured through a cloudy shower door!). Lizzie is a rising star who fancies a nice casual sex romp before a big match, and Peter has no problems with this notion. Their affair sets off an inspirational spark within Peter, who starts a rousing run at the Wimbledon title, sex with Kirsten Dunst being the ultimate sports tonic.
While the film sometimes falls into the trappings that make most Hollywood movie romances super lame, Bettany and Dunst have a genuine chemistry that keeps things afloat. One of the film’s funny touches is that Peter is a mild-mannered, even-tempered athlete while Lizzie exhibits a McEnroe-like ferocity on the court. Dunst has a few fun moments abusing the line officials, including an interesting obscene gesture with her racket.
Speaking of McEnroe, he accounts for one of the film’s weaker points, as he and Chris Evert make appearances as themselves, commentating on the tennis portions of the film. McEnroe is forced to deliver canned dialogue about the game and, worse, remark on the state of Peter and Lizzie’s relationship. McEnroe seems to be in pain, and Evert’s stiffness actually makes McEnroe look like an accomplished actor.
There’s a weak subplot involving Lizzie’s domineering dad (Sam Neill), who is growing concerned that her romp with a fading tennis player will make her game suffer. Neill, normally a capable actor, is saddled with a glaringly bad American accent that distracts from his every spoken word. Peter’s wacky British family bogs the movie down with some nonsense about his dad living in a tree house and his brother betting against him. None of it feels especially authentic.
What does feel legitimate is the tennis play, and both stars look competent with their rackets. Director Richard Loncraine gives the sport appropriate zip during the match sequences, and there’s a decent amount of suspense in Peter’s final match. Getting to hear what goes on in Peter’s head before a serve is one of the film’s funnier touches.
So what is this film really trying to say? If you’re a tennis player, and you’re falling in the ranks, you’d better have your agent arrange a shower with Kirsten Dunst and hope her naked ass puts about 20 mph on your serve? It’s best to not take anything in Wimbledon too seriously; just enjoy the work of two decent movie performers. But if you are a fading tennis pro, go ahead and arrange a naked viewing of Dunst anyway. It couldn’t hurt. (CPL, CR, CS, NM)