Richard Loncraine, UK/US 2004, 97 mins

Richard Curtis maynot have written Wimbledon but hisinfluence is evident in almost every scene of the film. As in Notting Hill and Four Weddings, a charming but stuttering Brit (in this case, ajourneyman tennis player) falls in love with a tougher, more worldly wiseAmerican. We're treated to picture postcard snapshots of familiar Londonlocations - the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and, of course, the CentreCourt at Wimbledon. The filmmakers throw in a self-deprecating voice-over, alittle satire at the expense of the media, a bit of sitcom-style backstoryinvolving the plucky Brit's family andfriends, and a supremely mushy ending.

This, then, isfilmmaking by the numbers. Working Title can hardly be blamed for sticking to aformula that has worked so well in the past. The question, though, is whetherthe absence of WT's main talisman, Hugh Grant, will hurt the box-officeprospects of Wimbledon (which opensin the US this week.)

While the film ought toretain its appeal to the matrons of Middle England, American audiences may notwarm quite so readily to a tale about unlikely British sporting triumph inwhich so many of the American characters (Kirsten Dunst's Lizzie Bradburyapart) are portrayed in a resolutely negative light. Like the tennis-themedRobert Evans-produced Players (1979),Wimbledon is a strangely tentativeaffair, caught between the net and the baseline, uncertain whether it's aromantic drama or a sports movie.

Peter Holt (PaulBettany) is a 31-year-old journeyman pro, ranked 119 in the world and dependenton a wild card to get into what will be his final Wimbledon. Lizzie Bradbury(Dunst) is a hot-shot young American tennis star with a combustibletemperament. By one of those random co-incidences so beloved of Working Titlescreenwriters (witness Hugh Grant spilling juice on Julia Roberts in Notting Hill), Paul is mistakenly giventhe key for Lizzie's Dorchester suite, sees her naked in the shower and isimmediately smitten.

There is somethingperverse about casting an actor like Bettany (whose hallmark is his intensity)as a lackadaisical English tennis professional. Whether hurling himself aftertennis balls or making calf eyes at Dunst, he copes well enough, but the rolewould surely have been better suited to the brittle comedic talents of Grant.Likewise, why use a master of chiaroscuro like cinematographer Darius Khondji(who lit David Fincher's Seven insuch brooding fashion) to shoot bland scenes of the English seaside and touristeye views of London'

The filmmakers egg upthe tennis sequences as best as they can, using slow and fast motion, digitaltrickery, martial drum sounds and spectacular camera movements. The result isvisually arresting but not especially dramatic. In a feelgood effort like this,there is never any real doubt as to the outcome, however fast the balls fly andhowever many ball boys are hit on the head. Director Loncraine and co. attemptto introduce a sense of realism by including cameos and voice-overs from variouscommentators and radio personalities (John McEnroe, Chris Evert and British DJDanny Baker), but we're never in any doubt that we're watching a verysoft-centred wish-fulfilment fantasy.

At least, Betanny andDunst make an attractive couple and have an easy comic rapport. The freshestpart of the movie is when they go AWOL in Bettany's sports car, hiding out inBrighton as the media and Dunst's father (Sam Neill) descend on them. Thesescenes evoke memories of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck adrift together in Roman Holiday, but the problem is somuch of the rest of the film feels flat.

Perhaps Wimbledon isn't the disaster thatadvance hype in the UK had suggested. There are some memorable one-liners andcomic moments along the way, including a few sly digs at Britain's real-lifetennis hero Tim Henman (surely the inspiration for the fist-clenching, accidentprone Tom Cavendish). Loncraine does his best to undercut the prevailing moodof mawkishness and whimsy with a few touches of irony. Surprisingly, given thatthe film is dedicated to Mark McCormack (the so-called 'godfather ofsports marketing,' who died last year), the funniest and most vividcharacter here is the sleaziest: Jon Favreau's Ron Roth, a venal sports agentready to sell out his clients at the drop of a hat.

What is most dispiritingoverall is the lack of ambition or originality. The film perpetuates astereotype of the English 'chap' (the diffident, charming publicschoolboy loser) which many thought had died out in British cinema with Ian Carmichaeland Dirk Bogarde. In its own undercharged way, Wimbledon is amiable enough, but it's surely time now for WorkingTitle to change the template.

Prod co: WorkingTitle
Prods: Tim Bevan, Eric Feller,Mary Richards
Int'l Sales: Universal
Scr: Jennifer Flackett, MarkLevin, Adam Brooks
DoP: Darius Khondji
Prod Des: Brian Morris
Ed: Humphrey Dixon
Music: Edward Sherarmur
Main Cast: Kirsten Dunst, PaulBettany, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau, Bernard hill, Eleanor Bron, Nikolaj CosterWaldau, Austin Nichols