by Tony Medley
What made Miracle
the best sports film Iíve ever seen was that the hockey players
were cast because they were, in fact, hockey players first and actors
second. Wimbledon didnít do that. Neither Paul Bettany, who
plays Peter Colt, nor Kirsten Dunst, who plays Lizzie Bradbury were
tennis players. Recipe for disaster.
But this is the
modern world. They both worked with former Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash
for four months to learn the moves. Then when they had to play (Dunst
barely plays, but Bettany is on the court for quite awhile), they played
without a ball. In these days of CG, the actors went on the court and
pantomimed each shot. The ball was inserted in post production. Good
idea. And Bettany and the others do a good, believable choreography of
make believe shots. Where the execution fails is in the CG in inserting
the ball, because the ball is too small. Also, Cash missed something.
Every good tennis player, when receiving serve, hops at the precise
moment when the server strikes the ball. Peter never hops.
The production was
granted extensive access to the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon to shoot
during the 2003 Tournament. But in a major glitch, the film shows Colt
playing in the semi finals on a side court. Barring rain problems, the
semi finals are always played on Centre Court. For anyone who watches
tennis, this is a major detraction. But thatís not all. We are also
asked to believe that every one of Cortís matches are shown in their
entirety on TV. While it wouldnít be unusual for English TV to
televise all of a Britís matches, I was practicing law in London one
summer during Wimbledon and, even though it was on TV, I donít
remember ever seeing an entire match shown from one of the outer courts,
which is where Cortís first match was. I donít even think they have
facilities for TV cameras on the outer courts.
Lizzie, who is a
hot, rising American player, with an on court feistiness that makes her
a female John McEnroe, and Peter, a phlegmatic, polite ďwild cardĒ
entry into Wimbledon at the tail end of a diminishing career, meet at a
hotel just before the Tournament starts and immediately start an affair.
In accordance with recent tradition in films, Lizzie is the aggressor.
Paul doesnít know what hit him, but they both fall in love, to the
dismay of Lizzieís father, Dennis (Sam Neill), who wants to keep them
apart. Thereís more to it, but not much more. This is a standard,
run-of-the-mill love story with a tennis setting. What might set it
apart are exceptional performances by Dunst and Bettany, who generate
Tracy-Hepburn type chemistry.
Since the U.S. Open
just concluded with a dismal performance by CBS, I hope CBS watches this
film because John McEnroe and Chris Evert call the matches and are the
only people in the booth. Even though McEnroe is obviously scripted, it
shows that he can do play-by-play. If CBS is smart (pardon
the counterfactual premise) it should be bye-bye Dick Enberg for
next yearís U.S. Open.
This is a harmless,
unchallenging, 100-minute feel-good movie with athletic action that is
September 14, 2004