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Break Point

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<i>Break Point</i>

Though similarly titled, Break Point is not to be confused with the upcoming Christmas release of Point Break. The latter is an update of the 1991 Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze action heist film, while Break Point is an innocuous sports dramedy about estranged brothers who mend their relationship, and their personal lives, through semi-pro tennis. Though not a remake, Break Point feels like one—recycling themes, storylines and characters that we’ve seen before. Were it not for a couple of engaging performances and a few moments of ribald humor, the film could have ended up in the total loss column.

Directed by TV veteran Jay Karas (Workaholics, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Break Point stars Jeremy Sisto as Jimmy Price, a washed-up, low-ranking doubles tennis player. His immature antics on and off the court have cost him all playing partners and earned him persona non grata status on the pro circuit. Jimmy knows he’s aging out of tennis, but wants one more run at the U.S. Open. To get there, he must make it through two qualifying tournaments. As a last resort, he reaches out to his first partner—his estranged brother Darren (David Walton), a substitute teacher who dropped out of the tennis world a long time ago.

The brothers tentatively start playing and training together, their on-court game tactics mirroring the way they’ve lived their lives. Jimmy is a reckless run-and-gun player who amasses an equal number of double faults as aces. Darren is a more measured and cautious player, perfectly comfortable holding steady with a 20-hit rally. During their quest for a U.S. Open bid, Jimmy and Darren learn from and about each other, and unsurprisingly, the odd couple starts to win their matches and turn their off-court lives around.

Sisto and Walton have good on-screen chemistry, realistically playing siblings still coping with issues about lost tennis careers and their mother’s death. A low-key Walton plays the mopey Darren, a character that’s completely listless in comparison to the man-child, Jimmy. Sisto, who co-developed the story with screenwriter Gene Hong, is hugely entertaining as the immature, toe-picking, beer-guzzling Jimmy. He channels his inner Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) from HBO’s baseball-centric Eastbound & Down, creating an irritating, journeyman tennis player who entertains through his idiocy. In an early scene with Adam Devine (Workaholics, Pitch Perfect) as a tennis shop clerk, the two devise a “scrotum ball” rubbing technique, wherein Jimmy cuts holes in his tennis shorts for easy ball-on-ball access, as a way to get a mental edge on opposing players. Yes, it’s completely juvenile, but additional scenes like it could have added extra bounce to the tired storylines.

Joining the Price brothers’ journey of self-discovery by way of low-level tennis tournaments are their father, Jack (J.K. Simmons); Barry (Joshua Rush), one of Darren’s former students; Darren’s unrequited crush, Heather (Amy Smart), and her no-good boyfriend, Gary (Vincent Ventresca). Unfortunately, the actors’ talents are wasted on such unimaginative characters. Smart is the requisite love interest, and isn’t given much to do except show she’s good at picking douchebags to date. The usually fiery Simmons is held back as a sedate father trying not to pick sides between two different sons. His best lines, however, happen when he’s annoyed at Jimmy, channeling the audience’s thoughts (“What are you…12?”). In a cemetery scene, Jack rebukes a drunk Jimmy for sacrificing a cold one at his mother’s graveside: “Don’t pour beer on your mother,” Simmons deadpans as only he can.

The one supporting character given a meatier role is the young Rush, as an oddball loner who becomes the Price brothers’ gofer and mascot. Barry acts and dresses as if he were ripped from castaway pages of a Wes Anderson script, but the character feels foisted upon the story. Barry’s messed-up homelife is seen in glimpses, but in this day and age, having a 33-year-old teacher and his older brother hanging with an 11-year-old needs a little more context or else it’s just plain creepy.

The action scenes in Break Point are decent, and Sisto and Walton at least look like they know their way around the court. Our bar is set pretty low for tennis action in films since watching Kirsten Dunst supposedly “play” at a pro-level in 2004’s Wimbledon. (No amount of CGI could have fixed that swing.) It helps that the Break Point sequences occur at qualifying tournaments and that doubles players generally have longer careers in competitive play. Sisto and Walton may not have the physique or strokes of Nadal and Federer, but thanks to Karas’ shot choices—the use of slo-mo and musical montage sequences—they only briefly have to look like they’re Grand Slam ready.

Break Point has its moments. It’s passable, light entertainment, but ultimately comes up short when reaching for deeper comedic or dramatic flair.

Director: Jay Karas
Writers: Script by Gene Hong, story by Hong and Jeremy Sisto
Starring: Jeremy Sisto, David Walton, Joshua Rush, J.K. Simmons, Amy Smart, Vincent Ventresca and Adam Devine
Release Date: September 4, 2015 in select theaters, available on VOD now


Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.

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