Wimbledon (7/10)

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 relatively realistic.

September 14, 2004

The End