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Posted 9/16/2004 8:00 PM     Updated 9/16/2004 4:57 PM
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'Wimbledon' serves up a sweet romantic comedy
Love is a many-faceted, if not splendored, thing in the romantic comedy set on the tennis courts of Wimbledon.

The movie is about a love match between a pair of lanky racket-wielding blondes, played by Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. But love, as the equivalent of zero in tennis, is how Bettany's character, Peter Colt, is feeling about his chances of distinguishing himself at the tournament. Once ranked No. 11 in the world, the thirtysomething player is now No. 119 and poised to take a job as a tennis pro at a posh club in the British countryside, where he's bound to quicken the pulses of English matrons but lose his self-respect.

 About the movie

On the eve of his retirement from the circuit, he's given one last opportunity to play at Wimbledon. He, along with virtually everyone else (including commentators John McEnroe and Chris Evert), expects he will lose his match and fade into obscurity. But this being a movie that adheres to formula, Peter makes a comeback.

Dunst as the driven Lizzie Bradbury is playing for the first time at the celebrated tourney. The two meet cute (she's in the shower and he gets the wrong hotel key) and the courtship begins. He plays better tennis as a result of their romance, while Lizzie and her overprotective dad (Sam Neill in a thankless role) worry she's losing her steely focus.

Bettany is the best thing about the movie. A wonderful dramatic actor, he also proves to be richly skilled at romantic comedy, playing Peter with an easy grace and a droll sense of humor. He even looks like a tennis ace here, as much as he embodied the role of the thoughtful surgeon in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. His chemistry with Dunst is potent. She also does a fine job as a sassy and self-assured player. Supporting players Jon Favreau as a sports agent and Eleanor Bron and Bernard Hill as Peter's parents provide humorous interludes.

The movie has some clever writing, with the best lines tossed off by Bettany. Too bad the final tennis match drags on and the outcome of events, both on the court and off, is predictable and corny.

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