Shia LaBeouf has finally met his match.
In the new movie “Borg vs. McEnroe,” he plays feisty tennis legend John McEnroe, and the casting is ingenious.
The 31-year-old actor once screamed at a policeman, “Do you know my life? Do you know who the f–k I am?” as he was escorted out of a Broadway theater for lighting up a cigarette inside.
And so the role of the famously volatile American player, who once told a court umpire to “go f–k your mother,” is a very good fit for LaBeouf. Spine-tingling good.
He is the best part of “Borg vs. McEnroe,” an enjoyable sports movie about the bitter rivalry between Swede Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and native New Yorker McEnroe. It’s set during the 1980 Wimbledon Championships, where the two eventually battled it out in the final.
It’s about damn time somebody made a movie outta these guys.
Not only were the two extremely compelling figures — Borg, the chilly Zen master with Skarsgård good looks (Stellan actually plays his coach); McEnroe, a loud, petulant, curly-haired Queens boy — they were also the best men in the game. The papers and talk shows ate it up. And the pair’s matches are, to this day, some of the most exciting the sport has ever seen.
McEnroe and Borg were respectively nicknamed Fire and Ice.
In the film, the tournament is broken up by flashbacks to the players’ checkered pasts. Borg started out as a demon child whose trainer taught him how to channel his anger into his racket, instead of at other people. As an adult athlete he became almost robotic, like The Borg of “Star Trek,” and resistance was futile. McEnroe, on the other hand, was famed — and booed — for his profane on-court outbursts. Yelling and kvetching actually helped him play more powerfully. His enduring insecurities about his parents’ disapproval of his tennis career, however, did not.
There’s a lot of Nordic lovin’ going on here. Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen leans heavily on his Scandinavian comrade, Borg: The golden-haired Adonis gets much more screen time than McEnroe and a great deal more sympathy, too. Gudnason does a decent job, but emotionally he doesn’t have nearly as much to do as LaBeouf. He’s handsome, sure, but this is tennis, not “Baywatch.”
For a film called “Borg vs. McEnroe,” the players don’t spend much time together off the court. No hallway brawls or pub fistfights. Instead, they plague each other mentally. Years later, in real life, a bromance bloomed.
But their clashing on the court has steam heat. For well over 10 minutes, the electrifying finals match is re-created realistically and with unexpected suspense, even though we’ve known the result for 38 years.