'7 Days In Hell': SXSW Review

Courtesy of SXSW
A funny if lightweight tennis-themed featurette

Andy Samberg and Kit Harington go to war on the tennis court.

Funny or Die and SNL Digital Shorts veteran Jake Szymanski takes his skit game to the next level in 7 Days in Hell, even if that "next level" is just the landing in the stairwell between viral videos and a proper feature debut. His 7 Days in Hell, a mock-sports doc about an epic Wimbledon bout, is perfectly suited to featurette length, mimicking cable-TV accounts of historic sporting events without pushing its luck by inventing involved off-the-court subplots. Funny in its broader-than-the-net way and packed with attention-getting "interviewees," it should play quite well when it premieres this June on HBO.

Andy Samberg plays textbook bad-boy tennis star Aaron Williams, who's returning to pro play after a cartoonish early retirement that took him, among other places, to prison in Sweden. (A facility whose all-male orgies are graphically depicted in CGI recreations.) As his prodigy opponent Charles Poole, Kit Harington is thick as a brick, an athlete who might not even have the mental wherewithal to dress himself if not for his domineering mother (Mary Steenburgen).

The two face off on the court in a bout that, as the title promises, lasts more than twice as long as the longest real-world Wimbledon match. Those reluctant to watch seven days of rote tennis play needn't worry: Though some outrageously contested points do occupy the short running time, screenwriter Murray Miller has plenty of ideas for ways of stretching this battle out that only incidentally involve the racquet and ball.

More or less true to the TV format it emulates, 7 Days brings in tennis heroes Serena Williams, Chris Evert and John McEnroe to comment on their fictional peers' strengths and weaknesses. (Williams has cause for special insight into Samberg's character.) This stunt casting gives semi-realist balance to some goofier appearances, like Lena Dunham's moussed-up take on the former Jordache exec who sponsored Aaron Williams when no one else would. The scene-stealer of the bunch is Michael Sheen as a sweaty, cigarette-ash-dusted TV host who can barely contain his inappropriate attraction while interviewing young Poole.

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A surplus of acting talent just barely keeps this from playing like an indulgence for Samberg, who preens through much over-the-top bad behavior (we won't ruin the shock value here) and might well have given this character a test run on SNL. Production values resemble those of the shorts he co-starred in there, though much of the film's genital-centric humor wouldn't have made it past NBC's Standards office.

Production company: HBO

Cast: Andy Samberg, Kit Harington, Michael Sheen, Will Forte, Lena Dunham, Fred Armisen, Mary Steenburgen, Karen Gillan, John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Chris Evert

Director: Jake Szymanski

Screenwriter: Murray Miller

Producers: David Bernad, Murray Miller, Andy Samberg

Executive producer: Jonathan Buss

Director of photography: Craig Kief

Production designer: Todd Jeffery

Editor: Dan Marks

No rating, 43 minutes

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