Release Date:  September 17, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for language, sexuality and partial nudity)
Genre: Romance/Comedy/Drama
Run Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Director:  Richard Loncraine
Actors:   Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Robert Limsey, Sam Neill, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Austin Nichols, James McAvoy, Jon Favreau

Love match, anyone? Or perhaps just a shag?

A professional tennis player once ranked 11th in the world, Peter Colt (Paul Bettany, “Master and Commander”) is playing his last Wimbledon before retiring to teach at a local club – much to the anticipation of the female members.  Upon arrival at London’s Dorchester Hotel, Peter is given the wrong room key and bursts in on up-and-coming, bad-girl tennis star, Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst“Spider-Man 2”), in the shower. The American Lizzie is favored to win Wimbledon, while Peter the Brit, now ranked 119, is merely hoping he won’t embarrass himself. The opposites attract and Lizzie invites Peter to her room for a date, where she coyly asks whether he enjoys fooling around before matches. His astonished but delighted answer is yes, and the two fall into bed.

The next day, Peter is losing his match when Lizzie shows up to watch. Suddenly energized by her gaze, he does a 180 and wins. He does the same thing again the next day – and the next. As long as Lizzie is watching, Peter is winning, much to the delight of his former agent (Jon Favreau), who magicallly reappears to manage Peter’s soaring career. Unfortunately, all the “fooling around” has the opposite effect on Lizzie, whose game is off – exactly what her father (Sam Neill) said would happen. So when Daddy whisks Lizzie away, Peter has to figure out how he can win the finals without her.

British director Richard Loncraine  (“My House in Umbria”) prepared well for the film, reading 20 books on the history of Wimbledon and insisting on four months of training for his actors. He also managed to obtain permission from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to film during the actual tournament, an unprecedented move that had actors walking onto the courts before and after matches, as if they were players, so the cameras could film them. Although the tennis moves were real, courtesy of 1981 Wimbledon Champ, Pat Cash, a consultant, the balls were inserted using CGI technology. Former Wimbledon champions John McEnroe and Chris Evert also appear in the film as themselves, providing amusing commentary during the matches. McEnroe’s deadpan observations are especially funny.

The result is a light-hearted look inside the world’s best tennis tournament. We don’t see its underbelly – the rampant promiscuity, addiction and big-money deals that are said to thwart the sport – but we hear what a player like Peter might be thinking as he serves, volleys and races to the net. And, we get an inkling about just how nervous players really are, even when they appear as cool as Wimbledon’s trademark strawberries and cream.

Like most romantic comedies, “Wimbledon” follows the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back formula, so the plot has a predictable feel that, combined with another movie recipe (athlete-underdog overcomes great odds on his path to sports greatness), never leaves us wondering what’s going to happen next. The tennis angle is a nice deviation for both. However, it’s not enough to overcome the uninspired dialogue and clichés that include a first-date music montage and even a shooting star (comet).