This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Here's a real discovery, an engaging comedy that opened without a lot of fanfare but is drawing crowds as the word spreads: “One On One” is funny and touching and makes you feel good. The movie's concocted out of story ingredients as old as the hills (small-town boy enters big-city university, hopes to make the team and win the girl), but it's acted with such grace and good humor that we really care about what happens.
That's not to say the movie's perfect. It owes more than a little to “The Graduate” and “Rocky,” and there are a couple of scenes awkward enough to make us squirm. But it has heart, and the immediately engaging personalities of Robby Benson and Annette O'Toole in the leading roles. And it has that rare commodity, a villain who is both totally despicable and human enough to inspire sympathy.
Benson is the 21-year-old who played Billy Joe McAllister in “Ode to Billy Joe” and jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge under circumstances that are still, for my money, cloaked in mystery. In “One On One”, which he co-authored, he plays a naive high-school basketball star from Colorado who's recruited by a big university (Benson in real life is a terrific basketball player and does his own playing in the movie). He's only 5 feet 10 inches, but he's a dazzling play-maker and the coach thinks he might be usable.
Ah: The coach. He's played by G.D. Spradlin (the corrupt senator in "The Godfather, Part II") as a hard-nosed ace recruiter with a heart of Drano. He welcomes young Robby into the system, which functions well at first (as a prospective varsity star, he gets a tutor, an alumnus big brother, a “job” and a weekly paycheck). But Robby doesn't fit. He tries hard, yes, and he's talented, but he's so small-town that he can't deal with things like uppers and downers and promiscuous departmental secretaries, and so the coach asks him to give up his scholarship.