The longest tennis match in history was officially contested between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut during the 2010 Wimbledon Championship. The seeded American and French qualifier battled it out for over 11 hours across three days in an effort to progress to the second round. The match has since been widely dubbed ‘the endless game’ and with good reason: the final set alone was longer than the previous longest game.
Even so, their tireless exploits seem like a mere warm up in comparison to the events of 7 Days in Hell, which takes the concept of a never-ending game to absurd new levels in search of raucous laughs. Unfortunately, even at a fleet 42 minutes, Andy Samberg’s sly and silly mockumentary feels more like an exhaustive volley than a backhand smash as it strains to run down the clock long after its goofy premise has thrown in the racket, which is at least fitting for a film about two tennis players stuck in a match that will not end.
Narrated by Jon Hamm in a marvellously deadpan style, 7 Days in Hell tells the story of Aaron Williams (Samberg) and Charles Poole (Kit Harrington), two legendary players who eventually meet in what turns out to be the world’s longest game of tennis. Williams, the adopted sibling of Venus and Serena, is the disgraced bad boy of tennis who returns to the court for one last shot at glory after he is publicly insulted by Poole, an upperclass dimwit who is desperate to win Wimbledon because he thinks it will finally make his callous mother love him.
With American Dad’s Murray Miller on script duties, this mockumentary is obviously less Rob Reiner-style satire – where sending up a world’s natural absurdity is the source of humour – and more of an excuse for another serving of Samberg’s trademark silliness and wacky energy. The film unloads a rapid-fire rate of childish jokes with mixed results – a well-worn gag about The Queen secretly being a foul-mouthed thug unsurprisingly falls flat – but works best when it veers into bizarre non-sequitors such as the strange few minutes spent discussing the groundbreaking work of Swedish courtroom sketch artist Erik Ekland.
Samberg naturally shines in a familiar role as roguish goofball Williams, a ball of manic energy who snorts cocaine between sets and entices streakers into threesomes on centre court to satiate his sexual appetite. The former SNL star is a likeable presence with his good natured charms preventing Williams’ arrogant antics from coming across as too unlikeable.
By comparison, Harrington is somewhat under-served by a one-note role as Poole. Though it’s initially fun to see an actor best known for playing sullen characters try his hand at underplayed comic timing, Harrington is only really required to stare blank-faced and mumble “indubitably” in answer to every question, regardless of its applicability.
A parade of guest stars fill out the remainder of the cast, playing the absurd talking heads who provide colour commentary for the unfolding lunacy. Tennis icons Serena Williams, Chris Everet and John McEnroe lend a modicum of credibility to proceedings, but it’s the cameoing actors who are the most enjoyable. Watch out for Girls’ Lena Dunham hamming it up as a player sponsor sporting a wig identical to Samberg’s and a show-stealing turn from Michael Sheen as a lecherous TV host who makes inappropriate advances towards Poole in a deliciously mean-spirited riff on 70s TV presenters.
7 Days in Hell’s biggest problem is that it feels like a comedy sketch that’s been stretched well beyond its worth. Films bases on SNL sketches are often criticised for their inability to expand upon their initial premise and this mockumentary has a similar struggle as more and more of its jokes begin hitting the net rather than zipping across the baseline. Though at times it feels like inconsequential fun, serving up the perfect blend gonzo wit and goofy flights of fancy, 7 Days in Hell ultimately falls short of the main prize because it doesn’t know when to get off the court.
7 Days in Hell airs this Sunday at 10:10pm on Sky Atlantic
Click here to watch the trailer for 7 Days in Hell