(Originally published in Rocky Mountain Bullhorn)
At his last Wimbledon hurrah before retiring for a cushy job as a club tennis pro (where randy old ladies eagerly await his instruction), underachieving has-been Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) discovers his killer instinct after falling in love with feisty American player Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst). In Wimbledon, all-night sexual volleys make Bettany’s wishy-washy Peter regain his confidence and become an on-the-court tiger, while Dunst’s female McEnroe is so flummoxed by her attraction to Peter that her first serve goes mushy. I’m not sure love generates ferocious determination, rather than lack of focus, in sports stars (just ask Tiger Woods), but perhaps director Richard Loncraine knows something I don’t about the relationship between athletics and amour.
What he clearly does not know, however, is how to bring novelty to the decomposing romantic Brit-comedy genre. Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin’s script lobs nothing but clichés throughout this five-set bore, so slavishly conforming to audience expectations that, from its opening moments, one can calculate the precise instant Lizzie’s overprotective father (Sam Neill) will decree that she stop dilly-dallying with her new hunk until she’s triumphed on center court. Will Peter stop choking and win both Wimbledon and Lizzie’s heart? Point, Set, Match, Predictable Fairy Tale Ending. Yet despite its routine game – tiresome wacky sideline characters; jokes about parents having sex; a ball boy who, ugh, believes in the underdog Peter – Wimbledon’s ace is the chemistry shared by its blonde leads and, in particular, Bettany, whose raffish, self-deprecating magnetism proves he’s primed for the Hollywood pro tour.