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One on One (1977)

4 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“One on One” is a sports film that is utterly predictable, but has its heart in the right place. It’s a feel-good comedy that is quite engaging, getting past the clichés seen in most sport movies. If the story of a small-town jock making it into a big-city university and hoping to win the girl of his dreams sounds familiar, it basically is. It’s a reliable formula that audiences are interested in. Audiences can guess (and mostly guess correctly) who will the big game at the end of s sports film, but it’s the journey that leads up to it that really matters most. “One on One” is a good movie—it’s well-acted, funny, and has a good sense of its environment, particularly when the environment is a basketball court.

Robby Benson, who co-wrote the screenplay at age 21 with his father, portrays the protagonist, a small-town, high school basketball player named Henry Steele. He’s a shy, naïve teenage boy with wide eyes, certain gullibility, good nature, and, of course, great skills in basketball. He’s only 5 feet 10 inches, but the coach from a big university thinks he could use him. The coach grants him a scholarship (and a new car), which Henry accepts.

Henry is welcomed into the system and is given a tutor, an alumnus big brother, and a spot on the team. His tutor is a cute young woman named Janet, played by Annette O’Toole with great appeal. In this film, O’Toole shows a remarkable screen presence and an appealing personality so that when Henry surely falls in love with her midway through the film, we don’t doubt it. Their scenes are the best thing about “One on One.” They’re played with soft humor and genuine sweetness. At first, this naïve kid doesn’t know how to feel around this cute grad student. But the next time they meet for a tutoring session, he impresses her—she says that he’s the first jock she’s met that has read “Moby Dick.”

Then later in the film, Janet breaks up with her boyfriend—a bearded professor for whom she’s a teaching assistant—and gives Henry support off the court. As their relationship develops, she even asks him to move in with her. (I love how Henry silently mouths, “Wow!,” after being asked to move in with this gorgeous grad student,)

But there’s a problem—Henry, who started out playing well on the team, is playing lousily and it becomes revealed that that’s because he’s constantly thinking of Janet. At one point, his friend helps him by taking him to a party—this doesn’t go well and it leads to the coach’s secretary (Gail Strickland, very funny) making a pass at Henry…in a very big way, let’s just leave it that. Also, the same friend gives Henry some speed to make him play basketball with manic energy.

This leads to the coach (G.D. Spradlin) into believing he’s made a mistake in granting this kid a four-year sports scholarship. He asks Henry to give up the scholarship. Henry refuses, so the coach does many things to humiliate/hurt him. What do you call a guy like this, without typing a certain seven-letter word for “jerk?” Well, believe me—“jerk” isn’t enough to a guy as despicable as is portrayed in this film.

All I’ve mentioned is handled well. As predictable as this film can be, particularly with the final climax involving the big game, “One on One” is still sweet and funny. Robby Benson is likable in the main role, Annette O’Toole is engaging, and on top of this, the film’s message about not giving up isn’t thrown in your face. “One on One” is a nicely-done feel-good movie.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

7 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Smokey and the Bandit” starts slow, but ends fast. It’s the strangest thing—it’s a movie that I wanted to just move along at first, but as it ended, I wanted to see more. It happened after about twenty minutes in that I started to really enjoy myself. Actually, I can tell you the moment it happened. It happened when Sally Field appeared on screen and joined the adventure of Burt Reynolds’ “Bandit” (as he’s known by his CB radio handle) and Jerry Reed’s “Snowman” as they go on an urgent trip to haul a truckload of Coors beer from Texas to Georgia.

To be sure, I was enjoying the company of Reynolds and Reed, who have a nice comic rapport with each other as they kid with around in their introductory scenes together. What I wasn’t enjoying was the way the bet for the beer was set up, by rich Big Enos and Little Enos (annoying), and I also wasn’t looking forward to how it would all turn out since Bandit and Snowman got the beer with no trouble at all and only fifteen minutes into the movie. I was hoping something would bring the movie to life—hard to believe I could ask for that, since Bandit is driving a cool-looking black Trans Am, but I need more than a car to get me interested. I’m not driving the car, and Reynolds and Reed communicating by CB radio (Reed drives the truck full of beer) could get boring. That’s how I felt while watching this movie.

But thankfully, director Hal Needham apparently knew someone like me would feel this way. So instead of a mere “getaway show,” he brings along three things to make “Smokey and the Bandit” into something fun.

The first is the character of Carrie, played by Sally Field. She’s an excited young woman who joins Bandit after hitching a ride with him, while wearing a wedding dress. She ran away from a wedding and wants something new. What she gets is Bandit’s exciting reckless-driving. What Bandit finds (and what we find) is a terrific gal. She’s attentive, fun, excitable, and so darn cute. She even gets her own CB handle—“Frog.” (“’Cause you hop around like one,” Bandit explains. “And I’d like to jump you.”) And as Sally Field plays her, she brings the heroic side of the movie to life. She’s very funny as she shouts for joy over Bandit’s driving and attempts to explain her background to this charming person she just met (while Bandit has his CB radio on for Snowman to listen to her ramblings). I loved watching her.

The second is the villain—a Texas Mountie with the handle of “Smokey Bear.” He could have been just a boring, one-dimensional caricature. Well, as played by Jackie Gleason, Smokey has two of those things right—“one-dimensional” and “caricature”—but never “boring.” In fact, Gleason is absolutely hilarious as this overweight lawman who chases Bandit along the trail and doesn’t give up for anything. He doesn’t care if he’s far out of his jurisdiction. He just wants to find Bandit and nab him. He’ll shout if he doesn’t get what he wants and takes it out on his idiot son, Junior (whom “Frog” was about to marry), even going as far as to say “There is no way that you could come from my loins.”

The third is the staging of each scene that follows as those two characters are introduced. As Smokey chases Bandit from place to place, the chases are well-staged, well-shot, and most importantly, fun to watch. Pretty much every way Bandit can evade Smokey is put on display here. They’re to the point where I found myself actually involved and I was proud of the movie for bringing me to this after a slow opening.

So what if there’s no feel for Bandit and Snowman to deliver the beer to Big and Little Enos on time? Let these folks drive, let Field keep talking, let Gleason keep chasing after Bandit like Wile E. Coyote, let Reed get beat up by some tough guys at a bar so he can gain revenge by running over their motorcycles in his truck (I love that scene). Once “Smokey and the Bandit” gets going, it really gets going. And as I said, when it was over, I wanted it to keep going.

I love you, Sally Field. I really love you.