Break Point could just as easily have been titled Game Point, Net Point, 30-Love, or any other number of similar stock phrases taken from the world of tennis to describe its wholly, and mostly laugh-free, paint-by-numbers approach to a pair of former pros vying for relevance as they enter, kicking and screaming, into their mid 30s. Director Jay Karas, whose previous credits include a number of television episodes and stand-up specials, settles into a safe, unremarkable aesthetic approach and sticks to it, preferring montages, convenient pep talks, and pepperings of indie rock throughout to supplement a hollow, “go get em’, fellas” sentiment.
The film is designed to be pleasant and affable to a fault, so that even the presence of Jimmy (Jeremy Sisto) as the foul-mouthed B-side to conservative, level-headed Darren’s (David Walton) A functions as a necessary balance to the sitcom-level interest in brotherly reconciliation. Jimmy is a boozehound, but the kind whose drinking rarely poses a problem to anyone, even himself, though characters are quick to comment on how “if he’d just give up the alcohol, he could be great.” Darren is a substitute teacher who draws the admiration of Barry (Joshua Rush), a spunky kid who’s determined to become a pro, or at least a ball boy himself. Jimmy convinces Darren to compete for the upcoming doubles title, but it’s to the film’s great detriment that the filmmakers aren’t clear on the exact stakes of the competition. When the boys take the court early on, there’s no sense of who’s involved, what they’re up against, or even what any single match means to their future. Moreover, Karas is incompetent at staging gameplay, as balls sail and land with nary a moment’s precision as to the duration of any given game or set.
These issues would be less noticeable were the tennis simply a backdrop to more pressing comedic sequences of familial (re)bonding, but the bulk of the film’s scenes simply hammer how Jimmy and Darren are ill-equipped to be partners and aren’t in synch on the court. Furthermore, Barry takes the brunt of Jimmy’s acid tongue, the latter quipping that he “looks like Katy Perry fucked Pinocchio,” since he’s wearing a colorful outfit. The joke is typical for a film steeped in pop-cultural references, from Jimmy stating how he enjoys jerking off to Playboy to having a World of Warcraft dispute with Barry, and as such it’s a wonder that John McEnroe or other volatile tennis pros don’t appear to throw down the gauntlet with Sisto’s surly loose canon.
Other characters, such as their veterinarian father (J.K. Simmons) and his assistant (Amy Smart), are stock types that service the film only as reasons to cutaway to audience reaction shots at the matches, with each of them looking suitably despondent or enthused based on what’s transpiring before them. For a film that insists its characters are at their strongest when they abandon rationality and caution for more intuitive, fully felt relationships, Break Point risks nothing in its assessment of unbridled risk-taking, making it the kind of disingenuous and lamentable dramedy one has come to expect from a large portion of decidedly feel-good, independent American filmmaking.