Thanks to the new DVD release of Wimbledon, anyone can become a tennis star. The film carefully lays out the three things any great player needs to do to win the sport’s most prestigious competition: run ten miles a day, yell at the umpire when you’re losing, and have random, semi-passionate sex with one of the other competitors the night before each of your matches. If you’re not even remotely interested in tennis or mediocre romantic relationships, then save that Blockbuster gift card you got for Christmas for a different rental. Wimbledon is not the show for you. Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) is a British tennis star past his prime. Once almost ranked among the top ten players in the world, he has now fallen from grace to a measly one hundredth and something place. He has miraculously been given a wild card position in the hallowed Wimbledon competition, an international event where all the world’s great tennis players come to get laid (apparently tennis players only sleep with other tennis players). Oh, there are tennis matches or something too.
Also present at the competition is first time Wimbledon attendee Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), a fiery American phenom who has decidedly come to win. When Peter accidentally stumbles into Lizzie’s hotel suite where she is unashamedly washing her birthday suit, she quickly selects him as her bed-mate for the remainder of the tournament. Despite interference from Lizzie’s protective father (Sam Neill), who seems more worried about how the physical relationship will effect her back hand than her reputation, the two find ways to secretly rendezvous. Unfortunately, Lizzie and Peter break the first rule of performance enhancing pre-tennis-match sex by falling in love with each other, a disastrous turn of events that threatens either one’s chance of winning in the tournament.
The only things sadder about this movie than its uninspiring love story, are its efforts to make the sport of tennis exciting. Anyone alive during the McEnroe era knows that the game only thrills when the players abandon hallowed etiquette and scream obscenities at the umpire while breaking their racquet across their knee. Director Richard Loncraine (of Richard III fame) tries taking a calmer approach to the game and attempts desperately to make the civilized sport exciting. To succeed at that would take the kind of cinematic magic not even Spielberg could create, and Loncraine’s honorable efforts simply fail to enthrall.
Dunst and Bettany are a clever couple whose witty conversations play well on the screen, but their romantic chemistry is semi-sweet at best. The more intriguing love story is the one between Peter’s parents, played by the magnificent Bernard Hill and Eleanor Bron. As a secondary plot line, their rocky marriage conflict gets little screen time, but the two fill every moment, giving the movie a nice breath of fresh romantic air. Another notable performace comes from the always funny Jon Favreau who, as Peter’s publicist and agent, provides much needed comic relief throughout. The performances of the entire cast are actually quite good for a British rom-com, but no amount of genius acting could keep this limp script on its feet.
You know the well is running dry when the writers of romantic comedies begin building their stories around less than exciting sporting events. Granted, it sometimes works out OK. Tin Cup wasn’t a terrible movie despite centering itself on the oh-so-sleepy game of golf (I have nothing against the game, but there’s a reason The Masters doesn’t draw million dollar ad spots like the Superbowl). But Tin Cup also had Cheech Marin and was therefore destined to succeed on some level (in my humble opinion, everything Cheech touches turns to gold). Without a hilarious Latino caddy, and only the “thrill” of a tennis tournament to pull it through, Wimbledon proved that even very creative minds like those behind Bridget Jones and Love Actually can drop the ball now and again. The only thing worse than having to watch a really great movie on a really boring DVD disc (i.e. no extras whatsoever) is having to watch a not so great movie on a better than average disc. Alas, such is the case with Wimbledon.
More often than not, I regret listening to director’s commentaries since they spend most of the time droning on about things I could care less about, like how artistic certain shots are or how the catered lunch gave him indigestion that day and that’s why the scene stinks. Richard Loncraine, in his commentary track, admits right up front that he’s terrified of making just such a mistake and has invited actor Paul Bettany along for the ride. Between the two of them they actually make for a more interesting listening experience than the movie’s dialogue. The only down side is Paul Bettany’s not-so-funny self-deprecating humor. Good thing Loncraine’s there to make him feel good about himself again.
One has to ask oneself while watching this moving, how does one go about making actors who are probably just amateurs, look like tennis pros? The making-of featurettes “Ball Control” and “Coach A Rising Star” answer that and other questions about the film’s many not-so-obvious special effects shots and tennis match sequences. To Loncraine’s credit his team of special effects artists really do a great job of it, doing their best to add excitement to the way the matches are played out. As well, tennis advisor Pat Cash patiently coached the entire cast through each of their scenes and how they should move to make each moment just right. It’s a type of special effects and stunt work I’d never really seen before and I found both featurettes rather enjoyable to watch. Of course, the fact that they’re both less than five minutes long didn’t hurt either.
When an institution has as much British propriety and etiquette as Wimbledon, and one wants to make a movie using that institution’s name and location, you’d better be darn sure that you get it right. Unlike American sporting events, the last thing you’ll expect to see at Wimbledon is Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. As such, there’s an entire featurette dedicated to the Wimbledon phenomenon and how its essence was captured for the film. Entitled “Welcome to the Club”, it takes you behind the scenes of the event’s romantically rigid traditions and regulations. It’s worth a look if you’re really interested in what makes the tournament tick.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough, there’s a regular making-of featurette in which the director, actors and crew all pat each other on the back and talk about how fun the film was to make. If you’ve watched the other bonus features and still want more, it’s good for rounding out the Wimbledon DVD viewing experience.
All DVDs should include the movie’s original trailer. Kudos to this package for including one. Nevermind that it’s a lame trailer. It’s still good to see it on the menu. The only essentials missing are some deleted scenes and outtakes, two things I’m certain this movie must have had plenty of. Who wouldn’t want to watch Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst falling on their fannies chasing imaginary tennis balls? Otherwise, the disc isn’t bad at all, a package more worthy than the movie it has to offer.
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