11/04/2007

Tennis Anyone?

Director: Donal Logue

I was all set to dub this film “Zen and The Art of Tennis” until director, co-writer and star Donal Logue referred to his filmmaking debut in precisely the same way in one of the many extras available on the DVD for Tennis Anyone. Logue, who co-wrote the film with Kirk Fox whom he met (along with scene stealing co-star Jason Isaacs) on the set of the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot first made an impression on me with his irresistible turn in The Tao of Steve. With Tennis, he proves to be a natural at transcending the same sort of Zen slacker philosophy wisdom he espoused in Tao with this semi-autobiographical story about two relative Hollywood outsiders who find themselves while playing in various celebrity tennis tournaments in California. Admittedly it does sound both shallow or the stuff of an Adam Sandler like Happy Gilmore comedy but somehow it works and not only for those who, like myself, truly enjoy tennis but it’s funny, painful and filled with rambling dialogue and unnerving situations that most films would have left on the cutting room floor. After struggling with the ongoing questioning and empty promises by others in trying to get his film made, Logue finally ended up getting behind the camera himself after he made a promise to do just that if he could make it through the Boston Marathon (which he did) and, for mostly better and only occasionally worse he was therefore able to keep his and Kirk Fox’s vision intact.

Like TV’s Grounded For Life star Logue, his Tennis character Danny Macklin lands a cushy spot on a television sitcom but he finds it hard to leave his marital turmoil after his pregnant wife leaves him behind in order to go on a stage and make a studio audience laugh in the fake "show must go on" mentality. Incorporating the touching and Zen-like persona of his father into the script, gifted tennis player Kirk Fox plays a character similar to himself as well, having been a much sought after and talented tennis pro getting work as an extra in films sometimes only through wealthy and powerful clients who as Fox states on the DVD, unfortunately liked keeping him at the level of tennis pro. The one important difference between Fox and his character Gary Morgan is that Fox can act and scheming Morgan cannot as he proves in the film in a hilariously bad rehearsal for a Mike Newell audition. There are some wonderful bits of humor and pathos throughout heightened by a truly memorable Jason Isaacs as the smug and two-faced award winning comedic actor Johnny Green who constantly hams it up and plays to the insecurity of Danny by constantly reminding him of his faults just before (and during) each match and look for fun smaller turns by Kenneth Mitchell and a tiny but affable cameo by Paul Rudd as an adult film star that reminds us once again why he’s so damn funny in those Judd Apatow comedies. While it’s going to be hard to convince most viewers not interested in the celluloid jungle (especially the D-List as Kathy Griffin calls it) or tennis to check out Logue’s film, fans of his will definitely not be disappointed. In fact, they may find themselves afterwards with the compulsive need to shout RIA… a phrase you’ll encounter repeatedly during the film.