|Henry Winkler ... wrestler?
The One and Only is a surprisingly fresh-faced film comedy with a virtuoso performance by pop idol Henry Winkler.
Winkler, of TV Happy Days fame, made an impressive debut as a dramatic star last season in Heroes, portraying a Vietnam veteran unable to readjust to civilian life. In The One and Only he plays a young egomaniac so hell-bent for stardom that every room he walks into becomes his personal stage and every gathering of three or more people becomes his personal audience.
It's an intriguing concept, especially well developed by director Carl Reiner. Reiner's last big-screen comedy, Oh God, had wit and style but lacked that magic rhythm that keeps us laughing. The One and Only has both, which is another way of saying that it has everything, and Winkler and Reiner are obviously a new team to reckon with.
Reiner shows Winkler's early ego years in the credits, then zooms into his last year at college, where he woos and weds an understandably startled Kim Darby. "We have to get married," she tells him soberly. "I'd be too embarrassed to have you as a date." She's watched him destroy school plays, football games and other 'team' events just to get a laugh (or better still, his personal opium -- applause) and wonders if he can truly love anyone but himself.
Herve Villechaize and Henry Winkler
Off they go to New York, where Winkler plans to conquer Broadway in the first two weeks. But when the Great White Way remains unconquered, Darby gets pregnant and their funds dwindle, he looks for part-time work and falls into a new career -- as a flamboyant wrestler. Our boy has found his Calling at last.
Writer-producer Steve Gordon fleshes out the off-centre plot with some delightful characters, and Reiner has cast his company with care. The result is a series of stellar performances from Ms. Darby as Winkler's winning but constantly mystified wife; William Daniels and Polly Holliday as her understandably stunned parents; and Harold Hould as a college drama coach who tries to get Winkler to do Shakespeare's shtik instead of his own.
Winkler's best support, however, comes from Gene Saks as a professionally cynical wrestling promoter and Herve Villechaize as the equally unemployed actor who gets Winkler into wrestling. Last remembered as one of James Bond's small but deadly opponents in The Man With The Golden Gun, Villechaize and Winkler are fine foil for each other, and Tony-award winning director Saks is in top form in a major departure from his last screen comedy role, as Jack Lemmon's breadwinner brother in Prison of Second Avenue.
The One and Only is comedy that works. The dialogue keeps ticking, and the gags keep clicking, with Reiner's surefire timing and Winkler's surefire delivery. It adds up to 100 minutes of fast fun for all.