By Will Ashton
If there’s one advantage the tennis mockumentary 7 Days in Hell has in its swing, it’s this: in a day-and-age where comedies seemingly go on for hours on end, this HBO comedy gets itself off the court in just 42 minutes time. It just barely qualifies as a feature film, and yet even in its brevity it tediously feels at least 25 minutes too long for its own good. Perhaps this Andy Samberg vehicle would have best been suited in even shorter form on Funny or Die, because this TV movie is sadly a swing-and-a-miss even with its only slightly longer running time.
Mimicking the HBO Sports documentary mold, Jake Szymanski’s (several FOD skits) film looks at the “infamous” seven-day match between two legends, the American party boy Aaron Williams (Sandberg) and berated British prodigy Charles Poole (Kit Harington). The two dim-wited racket players manage to make the most astounding game in the game’s history during their 2001 Wimbledon event, dragging out their match with sex, violence, drugs and general foul-play, all of which mostly happen on the court. Figureheads both real and fake lend their insight into the story, including Aaron’s sister Serena Williams, Aaron’s best friend David Cooperfield, Jim Lampley, John McEnroe, as well as biographer William S. Sandy Pickard (Will Forte), former All England Club chairman Edward Pudding (Fred Armisen), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Lily Allsworth (Karen Gillan), the Duke of Kent (Howie Mandel), Charles’ mother Louisa (Mary Steenburgen) and Aaron’s brief Jordache Jeans sponsor Lanny Denver (Lena Dunham), with everyone trying to make as much sense as they can of the mayhem.
Each one plays it fairly straight-faced and unbridled, and although they don’t have a lot to work with, it’s at least commendable of the cast — also including June Squibb as the Queen of England, Michael Sheen as the naughty talk show host Caspian Wint and Jon Hamm as the narrator — to try to make this as reasonably entertaining as they could. The problem isn’t the commitment but the overextended execution. It’s a cute idea that doesn’t really have anywhere to take itself beyond a handful of jokes. Tired dick jokes, sex gags, poor stereotypes and one-joke characters comprise the majority of the film, making everything the most blunt and unappealingly brash as they can. It drags the entire thing out, making the less-than-one-hour film feel longer than it should, and not as sure-handed as it needs to be.
It’s not a disaster by any means. Writer Murray Miller (Girls) does put some good jokes in the movie, and one bit involving Williams’ overly strong hit early on in the movie earns this movie it’s one hearty laugh. Plus, by the end there are some good chuckles earned simply by how ludicrous the premise gets as its stretch almost as long as the main tennis match. It’s really the middle where things begin to waver, and even though it’s as short-lived as it is, there’s not denying this thing could’ve — and should’ve — been trimmed down to a tight 25 or so minutes. It’s basically a one-off Adult Swim segment trying to parade around as a meager movie, and its simply too flimsy to fly. It has the upper body strength to provide a powerful hit, but not quite the will power to make it happen.
It’s entirely watchable, though. It wraps itself up just before it really becomes a bore, and it’s harmless and inefficient enough to not really warrant any violent reaction. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. It’s nice to see Harington try to stretch himself beyond stiff action roles, and Samburg gives this as much passionate as he gives anything he’s involved in. It’s not enough, though, and unfortunately this is a foul that easily could’ve been a full-force whack. If tennis really is a head game, however, making something as sophomoric and uncharismatic glib as this is indubitably frustrating.