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Henry Steele is a basketball phenom at his small town high school, but when he matriculates to a big city university on a scholarship, soon realizes that he has few skills outside the sport. Expected by his coach to contribute significantly to the team, Henry is overwhelmed by the demands on his time, the "big business" aspect of college sports, and the fact that he never fully learned to read. Things look bleak for Henry when Janet Hays, a pretty graduate student, is assigned as Henry's tutor. Her intellect and strength lift Henry out of his doldrums just in time to battle the coach, who attempts to rescind Henry's scholarship. Written by
Rick Gregory <email@example.com>
Good Love Story almost brought down by some heavy handed manipulations
One on One is the kind of film that infuriates me every time I see it. There is much of it that is very good and highly watchable. Unfortunately, there's also a good portion of it lousy enough that it makes a certain aspect of this film darn near intolerable.
The premise of the story is intriguing enough. Small town and small of stature basketball player Henry Steele (Robby Benson) has spent most of his life doing nothing but practicing and playing basketball (sort of a white Michael Jordan with hair). He is recruited by Coach Moreland Smith (G.D. Spradlin) to play basketball for Western University (think UCLA) and Henry accepts. Since Henry is from a small rural school he is totally unprepared for what awaits him in college. The players are much bigger of course, the practices are ten times tougher and he has no clue even as to what his classes will be. Some of the best scenes in One on One are watching Henry overcoming his naiveness as he learns what being a college jock is about. In order to make sure that he keeps his grades up he is also sent to be tutored by Janet Hays (Annette O'Toole). Unfortunately for Henry, Janet also hates jocks, a fact that Henry quickly finds out on his first day of tutoring. Henry may be a naive jock, but he is not dumb and uses Janet's degrading put downs of a jock's ability to learn as incentive to prove her wrong. However, the more he studies, the more Henry has trouble coping with playing college basketball and it isn't long before Coach Smith asks him to renounce his scholarship.
OK, first I'll give you the good: Robby Benson gives a solid performance as the naive country-bumpkin basketball superstar. I don't have a clue as to how much basketball he actually played in his life but in this film he certainly looks as if he could step right out onto a basketball court and begin wowing the folks. Although he does take some favors such as a car for going to the university, Benson is able to convince us that he is simply too callow to understand the ramifications of receiving cars, trading tickets to alumni for cash, and working a job that requires no work.. That's why we are able to root for Henry.
Then there's the love story that develops between Henry and Janet. As Henry works to gains Janet's respect, we see her attitude change from one of disdain, to caring about Henry and eventually love. The fact that we can believe in the love story is due in no small measure to Annette O'Toole's Janet. She gives her character enough depth that we are able to see that Janet is not above learning a few things about people and how not to judge everyone as a group. When her boyfriend is ridiculing Henry, we almost sense the shame she feels from having done the same thing earlier in the film. It is this love story that is perhaps the best thing about One on One and darn it, if they had just made the movie more about that they would have been on safe ground.
Of course I could stop here with the review and spare you the pain of the bad but why should I suffer alone? Any film worth its salt will try and manipulate its audience in some fashion another. The really good ones do it in a either a subtle way that we don't know how much we are being manipulated, or do it in a manner in which we may realize we are being manipulated but we don't care. Then there are films like One on One that are so heavy-handed in its attempt to manipulate our emotions, that it ends up turning us off by doing the blatantly obvious.
If ever there was the epitome of a wicked evil college coach, it's Spradlin's Coach Smith. It doesn't take us too long to realize his character is way over the top. It's as if writers Benson and Segal made him a composite caricature of the absolute worst coaches to grace a basketball court and his basketball program is equally despicable. Coach Smith would make Bobby Knight appear saintly by comparison. For instance, after having personally recruited Henry and signing him, Smith doesn't even remember who he is when he shows up at his office. Players are given good paying jobs for doing nothing. College classes are re-routed so players can go to practice instead of taking exams. Players are given oodles of money by alumni. I have no doubt that some of these things go on in some college sports program, but if they did it as obvious and as much as Smith does, they would be on NCAA probation for decades. Later when Henry doesn't appear to be making the grade, Spradlin resorts to physical torture to try and get Henry to renounce his scholarship, and does it in front of the other players. From what we are told this isn't the first time that has happened but One on One would have us believe it's a common occurrence for Coach Smith. Would a coach who sanctions so much rule breaking actually insist on a player renouncing his scholarship and take the chance that a recruit would head right to the NCAA and have a true confession? All of these shenanigans are from a coach who expects to have an undefeated season. I don't blame Spradlin as his portrayal of Smith is what the script and character requires him to do. If Benson and Segal had toned this aspect down quite a bit, it would have made for a much better film simply because it might have been more believable. Instead they just about kill it by making Smith appear to be Satan in a jacket and tie.
My advice is to watch as Henry learns his way around college, watch the scenes between O'Toole and Benson, and concentrate on the growing love story between them and some of the other humorous scenes that deal with Henry's naiveté and growth as a person. As for the rest of the story, that's when you get up and make yourself a sandwich.
My grade: C+
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