Last night I saw Luca Guadagnino and Justin KuritzkesChallengers (Amazon, 4.26), and as far as “tennis pros engaged in romantic triangle” flicks go it’s fairly out there, man.

Challengers hasn’t been written and shot in my preferred style (like King Richard, my all-time favorite tennis movie) but I respect and admire the fact that Guadagnino, the director, has made a jumpy, flourishy, time-skotching, impressionistic, mostly hetero but also vaguely homoerotic film that…what’s the term, broadens your horizons? Challenges you and wakes you up? Makes a dent in your psyche?

It doesn’t do the usual thing and certainly pushes a few boundaries, but I like that for the most part. I certainly prefer films that try different strategies over ones that adhere to predictable ones.

So, putting this carefully, I didn’t love everything about it (which puts me in a minority) but I loved the verve, the effort, the invention, the ballsiness. I was irked here and there but I certainly wasn’t bored. All in all the audacity and impulsiveness of Challengers makes it Guadagnino’s best film since Call Me By Your Name. Really.

One of the less predictable aspects…,okay, a vaguely annoying thing is the hopping-around timeline, which I lost patience with around the halfway mark.

Another unusual thing is that the three main characters — Zendaya‘s Tashi Duncan, Mike Faist‘s Art Donaldson and Josh O’Connor‘s Patrick Zweig — aren’t especially charming or likable or even attractive. Not to me, at least.

Compelling or intriguing actors are supposed to turn you on or at least engage your interest or empathy. Or arouse your blood.

If you’re a straight male you should either want to be like a straight-male protagonist or two on the screen, and you should be thinking about possibly fucking the lead actress. I had no such thoughts during Challengers (sorry), but others may feel differently. It takes all sorts, etc.

The story is a little confusing but here goes: Duncan, a former tennis player sidelined by injury, is now coaching Donaldson, her husband of a few years and a hotshot tennis star who’s on some kind of losing streak. Duncan met Donaldson and Zweig 11 or 12 years earlier and was attracted to them both, which led to some heated hotel-room smooching all around. (No — the dudes didn’t fuck each other.) Duncan married Donaldson but now Zweig is back in the arena and looking to beat Donaldson in a big match, and so Duncan is looking to somehow influence Zweig’s attitude or psychology or something…shit, I’m losing the thread.

Zweig is a bad boy with an impulsive, unstructured approach to everything outside of tennis…a guy who likes to fuck for fucking’s sake and otherwise enjoys poking at situational hornet’s nests. I didn’t “like” Zweig but O’Connor, a sinewy, dark-haired sweat beast who played Prince Charles in The Crown, has something…he’s the best of the bunch.

Challengers also the sweatiest film I’ve seen ever. I felt dampened by Faist’s sweat droplets.

I’ve never been a huge Zendaya fan, although I found her compelling in Dune 2. In Challengers she mostly frowns and frowns and frowns some more. She’s almost constantly pissed off and at the same time frosty and aloof, plus she’s also at war with the concept of diction…she mutters, slurs, swallows words and speaks in hurried streams.

I can see Challengers becoming quite popular with Millennials and Zoomers.

Irritations aside it’s a substantial film, and it sure as shit steps outside the arena of Francois Truffaut‘s Jules et Jim. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a ménage a trois vein, although the most intense current is obviously between Faist and O’Connor. Almost homo tennis but not quite.

Skinny, small-boobed Zendaya (she’s a pretty mouseburger) is a producer along with Amy Pascal.

Just to be double clear: the guys hungrily kiss each other during a truncated menage a trois scene, but they don’t fuck each other in the ass or in each other’s armpits or anywhere else.

Faist’s hair is a pale orange-meets-carrot color, and his skin is too alabaster. I didn’t get the white-skinned redhead thing from his Riff performance in West Side Story.

I don’t relate to super-pale actors as a rule. Actors need some color in their cheeks.

Robert Redford arguably wouldn’t have been a star during his late ‘60s to late ’80s heyday if hairdressers hadn’t given his hair that beautiful straw-blonde color. His natural hair color is copper. I once interviewed a guy who knew Redford in the ‘50s (they both lived in Van Nuys), and he said his nickname was “Red.”

I’ve never found redheads appealing as a rule. Back in the ’70s I was entwined one night with a flaming redhead, and I really didn’t like her spicy aroma. Sorry.

Youth movies about slightly unattractive but oddly interesting protagonists should be encouraged. They’re certainly worth seeing. The kind in which the characters are complex enough to behave badly without some pandering “explanation”…right?