Much like the works of Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Guest and Ricky Gervais, which have glorified and introduced generations of viewers to the mock documentary style approach to comedy, HBOs latest film “7 Days in Hell” will, also, soon, become a staple of the docu-parody approach to film.
At the pinnacle of their career is where we meet the two tennis pros, during an interminably long match that is the product of years of ugly, pugnacious rivalry. Both players, competing for the 2001 Wimbledon title, attempt to prove to themselves and the rest of the world that they have what it takes. What ensues is a week of mischief, fatigue, royalty, streakers, bad endorsement deals and everything in between.
Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) is an egotistical playboy with a formidable ‘80s hard rock band haircut. His unbridled ribaldry, and bad lifestyle choices have brought ingnominy to his career, which pushes him to make one last comeback. His personality is perhaps best described by John McEnroe when talking about the time he inadvertently killed a by-stander during a career-ending match: “Aaron probably should have forfeited after killing a guy, but he didn’t, because he’s an asshole.” Charles Poole (Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”), on the other hand, is a pusillanimous momma’s-boy. His demure is punctuated by a limited vocabulary (drinking game: take a shot for every time he says “undubitably”) and his pragmatically funny way of explaining his strategy to interviewers: “When I’m playing, I serve the ball, and the man on the opposite side of the court serves it back to me.”
Both Harington and Samberg bring much appreciated laughs throughout. Samberg, with his ever voluble, clumsy, oops-a-daisy schtick is on point as the vice-riddled villain in this narrative. He plays well off Harington, who is just as serious here as he is playing the iconic Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones.” His guileless demeanor – the puppy-dog eyes, his unsuspecting pout – brings something that is believable to his naiveté. His best scenes are when he’s succumbed to panic in his hotel room, as the cameras capture all of his awesome neuroses.
Director Jake Szymanski (“Saturday Night Live”) pulls out the familiar sports documentary stops: the archive footage, interviews with sports legends such as Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Jim Lampley, even mock home videos of a young Poole being bullied into practicing by his power-hungry mother (“Mother Fearest,” the tabloids have dubbed her). There’s never a shortage of laughs. Those familiar with Samberg’s “SNL” days will remember, either nostalgically or aversely, his digital shorts, much like his “the lonely island” music videos, they’re often a self-effacing montage of satirical randomness that is too dumb not to be funny. It’s as if writer Murray Miller (“Girls”) wrote the script with Samberg (who’s also a producer on the film) in mind, catering to his highly polished puerile style.
When Poole and Williams’ clash of personalities isn’t making one laugh, Szymanski makes excellent use of his other actors. Funny men Fred Armisen and Will Forte make appearances, as well as “Girls” star Lena Dunham, playing a denim clothing mogul, even the instantly recognizable smoothness that is Jon Hamm’s voice lends itself for narration over this farcical tale. The most memorable supporting characters, however, are Michael Sheen (“Masters of Sex”) playing a pedophilic BBC show anchor, in a perennial state of being drenched in sweat and cigarette ash and June Squibb (“Nebraska”) gloriously playing The Queen…of England, who is, apparently, a big fan of tennis and likes to leave drunk voice mails on Poole’s phone.
Unlike the match, the film does not go on for long. At a measely 43 minutes, the film feels short, short enough for Szymanski and Miller to have included more snippets of Sheen ogling at a 16-year-old Poole or of Squibb being deliciously nasty. But perhaps this is for the best. The film, in a good way, leaves something to be desired, rather than stretch its jokes and our patience for a damning amount of time. As it stands, the film is undeniably hilarious. It’s a well crafted effort at highlighting the infinitesimal duration of the sport matches it mocks in a manner that serves the generation of viewers that indulge in the random, fast-paced, often nonsensical comedy that delivers quick laughs and viral sensationalism.
“7 Days in Hell” is now available on HBOgo.com and HBO Now. It will air Saturday, July 11, at 10 PM ET on HBO.