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Review: Battle Of The Sexes fails to ace tennis grudge match

PUBLISHED: 08:48 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:48 24 November 2017

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue Gordon

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue Gordon

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue Gordon

Husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris serve-and-volley a dramatisation of the televised 1973 man v woman tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, played by Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue GordonEmma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue Gordon

Battle Of The Sexes (12A)

***

It may be a battle, but it’s not much of a battle. You’d expect this telling of the back story to the 1973 exhibition tennis match between the woman’s number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and 55-year-old Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) to be fixed, but the fix is less convincing then you’d imagine.

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue GordoEmma Stone as Billie Jean King in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue Gordo

Every poster features Stone smiling benignly at Carell, and the film is much like the event it replays: it calls itself a battle but is really a friendly match.

Billie Jean and her ballsy manager Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) are enraged when Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), one of the founders of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), announces the prize money for a forthcoming tournament heavily weighted in favour of the male players.

In retaliation, King spearheads the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), including her fiercest rival, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee).

Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue GordonSteve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle Of The Sexes. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Melinda Sue Gordon

The women-only tour gains in popularity and former champion Bobby Riggs, now past his prime, issues a bold challenge to any female player to face him on the court.

Stone makes for a beguiling and compelling Billie Jean. She seems too slight to be the sportsman she portrays but, like Will Smith as Mohammed Ali, that works for her.

Her Velma from Scooby Doo look makes her more swotty than sporty.

Carell’s Riggs, a former Wimbledon champion resentful of playing for peanuts on the senior circuit, is more comic buffoon, but with some depth. Carell plays him as an opportunist who creates an Austin Powers persona to drum up business: he’s the man who put the show into the chauvinism.

It’s just as well that the film has these two great performances to centre on because every other character is a cypher. As a whole, the film gives audiences very little to get hold of. It’s a perfectly pleasant watch, but far too nice to carry any weight.

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