A join-the-dots romantic comedy, Wimbledon is worth watching for the magnetism of Paul Bettany. Without the Beautiful Mind actor, this tale of a Brit no-hoper's last attempt to triumph at tennis would be scarcely memorable. But whether scoring at the net or in bed with American champ Kirsten Dunst, Bettany has a rakish, old school charm that's hard to resist. The sporting scenes, too, impress, although it's impossible to capture the anything-can-happen-atmosphere of great, unscripted sporting drama.
There is a gripping, gritty, dark comedy to be made about the bed-hopping, back-stabbing, jet-lagged, ambition-fuelled netherworld of professional tour tennis. This, of course, isn't it; sticking instead to the tried and tested formula that previously served us Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill. Thus, we trot through a cosy upper-middle-class world where - and this is the film's biggest problem - very little is at stake.
"BETTANY IS AN ACE"
The story is straightforward and the obstacles faced by the characters are rather easy to overcome. Peter Colt, Bettany's once promising player, is about to retire and become in-house pro at a country club. Not exactly a life-ending dilemma. The star even delivers his own blustering, Hugh Grant-alike speech - although the script lacks the edge and consistent belly laughs of Richard Curtis at his best.
But it is funny. James McAvoy relishes the role of Colt's crude younger brother, while the internal monologue accompanying the matches keeps the interest going even when the play is predictable. The computer-generated imagery used to enhance the action works well, and it is nice to imagine a Brit challenging for tennis' top title. A collection of strong second serves, then, but Bettany is an ace.
Wimbledon is released in UK cinemas on Friday 24th September 2004.