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With: Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, James McAvoy, Eleanor Bron, Sam Neill, Austin Nichols, John McEnroe
Written by: Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexuality and partial nudity
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/13/2004
IMDB

Wimbledon (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Courtship

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's been a long time since a new movie has successfully used the Rocky formula, the one about the underdog athlete who -- against impossible odds -- goes the distance.

Plus, I can't remember any Rocky knockoffs that featured such an adorable couple as Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany.

To be sure, Wimbledon does not offer anything we haven't seen before, but the sure-footedness of the filmmakers and the sheer charm of the stars make it come off. It's harmless, charming fun.

Dunst plays Lizzie Bradbury, a gorgeous, young American tennis champ who is presumably a pinup queen like Anna Kournikova, except that she wins a lot more often. Paul Bettany plays Peter Colt, a veteran player who once ranked 11th in the world and now stands at 119th. He slumps off to the latest Wimbledon tournament, his thirteenth, in the glum knowledge that it will be his last. A job as a tennis pro at a ladies' club awaits him and he only hopes he can go out with a little style.

That's when he mistakenly walks into Lizzie's hotel room; the two hit it off immediately. They flirt and he invites her for dinner. Instead of eating, she asks, "What's your opinion on fooling around before a match?"

Most romantic comedies these days feel the need to pit their lovers against one another as bickering idiots who only find common ground in the final reel. Wimbledon doesn't call for such hysterics; it's comfortable with the fact that, yes, these two are in love.

Their roadblock is the simple fact that they may or may not distract one another from their game. In fact, Peter plays much better. He even begins winning. Unfortunately Lizzie does not share the same good fortune. As a result, her overbearing dad (Sam Neill) takes an instant dislike to the young man.

The film even has a one-dimensional bad guy (Austin Nichols), an American jerk who wants Lizzie but can't have her and eventually must face Peter in the finals. And Jon Favreau plays a sleazy agent who comes creeping back into Peter's life with corn chip deals. Better still, John McEnroe plays an abrasive announcer who can't wait to see Peter fail.

Most people who have ever seen a movie will be able to guess the rest, but Wimbledon moves with grace and confidence and it easily scoops us up into its clutches. It helps that Bettany has a kind of humble, English charm with his tall frame and pasty features. And Dunst is the greatest charmer of our time. Even with her slightly pudgy face, funny nose and minutely jagged teeth, she carries a realistic and undeniable sex appeal. But her real weapons are her eyes -- which radiate enormous world maturity and sadness -- and her beautiful songlike voice, which can make a simple "thank you" sound like a symphony.

Wimbledon director Richard Loncraine has been absent from the screen since his amazing work on Ian McKellen's flashy Richard III (1995). Here he tries a few whiz-bang pyrotechnics on the tennis court, (Darius Khondji provided the crisp cinematography) but mostly he stays back and keeps the games clear and the romance delightful.

Loncraine goes one step further by making Wimbledon a British treat, liberally using English locations and character actors, so that when Peter reaches the finals, it becomes a victory for the whole country -- one that they truly appreciate. You just can't help be moved by that.

DVD Details: After a lackluster theatrical performance, romantic comedy fans will hopefully rediscover this charming little film on DVD. Universal's new disc comes with a few minor featurettes, but nothing special.

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