When it comes to lightly comic sports movies, Ron Shelton has long been the gold standard, yet rarely does anyone attempt to emulate films like Bull Durham, Tin Cup, and Play It To The Bone. Granted, it’s a tough sensibility to pull off, as Shelton dared to walk the treacherous line between charmingly eccentric and irritatingly quirky. The new doubles tennis comedy Break Point—not to be confused with the forthcoming remake of Point Break, due at Christmas—gives it a shot, and actually does a pretty good job at keeping the jokes wry and low-key, with just a few detours into broader, Will Ferrell-ish territory. Unfortunately, the screenplay is otherwise so relentlessly formulaic that the movie never really gets a chance to cut loose. It’s the kind of amiable but predictable trifle that nobody ever seeks out, but that will mildly amuse everyone who happens to stumble onto it when it hits cable and the streaming services.
Like Roy McAvoy, the golf pro played by Kevin Costner in Tin Cup, over-the-hill tennis player Jimmy (Jeremy Sisto) impulsively decides to try to qualify for the U.S. Open. Trouble is, his doubles partner has just dumped him, because Jimmy, like Roy McAvoy, values potential greatness over reliability. Just as Roy would risk landing the ball in the water rather than playing the percentages and shooting for the green, Jimmy tries to ace every serve, which causes him to double-fault on a regular basis. Jimmy, however, has a secret weapon: his younger brother, Darren (David Walton), who’s given up professional tennis to work as a substitute teacher. The two brothers have barely spoken in years, ever since Jimmy abandoned Darren to team up with a better pro. After some bickering, however, they agree to take one final shot at glory, with Darren’s more conservative game counterbalancing Jimmy’s aggressive recklessness.
That odd-couple dynamic serves the film well, too, as Sisto’s often hilariously obnoxious performance is held in check by Walton’s nicely calibrated portrait of self-effacing decency. When Break Point focuses squarely on the contentious relationship between its two brothers (with occasional glimpses of their dad, nicely underplayed by J.K. Simmons), mining humor from their personality clashes, it’s a lot of fun. And the matches, which journeyman TV-comedy director Jay Karas (episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Workaholics, etc.) shoots mostly from on-court, are credibly exciting. So it’s a shame that screenwriter Gene Hong, working from a story he devised with Sisto, throws in such dopey, pandering subplots as Darren’s efforts to impress Heather (Amy Smart), a young woman who works for his dad, but who already has a (horrible, expendable) boyfriend. And the movie could do entirely without Barry (Joshua Rush), one of Darren’s middle-school students, who’s so lonely that he attaches himself to Darren, then later decides he wants to become a ball boy. There are training montages set unironically to hard-driving rock music, too. Ron Shelton would cringe.