by Natasha Theobald
This is meant to be a love story, I believe, but it works better when it focuses on the main guy. While there is little spark with the couple at hand, Paul Bettany brings quite a bit to his character, a man with nothing to lose. He is at the end of one phase of his life, and, rather than mourn, he is suddenly at the top of his game, with some new inspiration.Bettany plays Peter Colt, a tennis player reaching the end of the line. His rank has fallen into triple digits, and this Wimbledon will be his last. It is time for him to hang up the racket and teach tennis to women of means. Much to his surprise, however, a peek at the fresh talent on the circuit gives him just the boost he needs to excel and begin to win.
"Bettany scores, but Dunst isn't into it."
Said inspiration comes in the form of Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), an American all-star looking for her first European win. She is everything Peter no longer is -- determined, single-minded, and hungry. And, for some reason, one which is never quite clear, for the length of the tournament, she wants Peter as her main dish. The only thing standing in their way is some unwanted media attention and her daddy (Sam Neill), who wants to win even more than she does, if such a thing is possible.
So, the two start by scratching what itches, only to become part each of the other's pre-game warm-up and post-match relaxation. She meets his brother, and he meets her father. He takes a swipe at a guy for calling her slutty, and she swoons. Where or when it moves from sex to love I'm not quite sure, though that may be true to life. While Bettany brings an element of sincerity and purity to the sentiments, Dunst seems tired or bored or ill at ease. Whether part of the script or no, he comes off as a genuine grown-up searching for something, and she seems like just a pouty teen with some time to kill. I don't quite buy the romance as such.
Luckily, there is plenty of interest in the background elements to keep the ship afloat. We get to visit with Peter's quirky clan, the brother who bets against him and the parents who have had some falling out. Too, we are treated to cameos from some tennis greats, playing themselves as commentators, though with John McEnroe around, no one else gets much a word in edgewise. We don't see much of Dunst on the court, but we are treated to some good tennis from Bettany. There are moments where the audience is let in on the character's inner dialogue, the things he tells himself before a serve to focus, which I quite liked. The decidedly British feel to the whole affair also makes up for any charm lacking from the central relationship, as well.
While Bettany has the charm and good looks to be a leading man, he is too good an actor to while away his time in such a patterned romance. Seeing what he can do to make this character into something more, I truly feel his talent has only begun to surface. He deserves something great to chew over, and I hope he gets it. I will be first in line to watch.If you like tennis and don't mind a less than fresh look at a less than energetic romance, there are worse things you could do for a couple of hours than watch this movie. Bettany makes it watchable. Here's hoping for his better luck next time.
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originally posted: 03/09/05 17:59:47