The World's Greatest Lover Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder’s sophomore directing effort is a big improvement on his first, largely due to a greater reliance on gags over the simple narrative that initially bogged him down. I still wouldn’t exactly call it funny, but it’s slaphappy and weird in ways that keep you glued to the screen. Wilder plays Rudy Valentine, a 1920s failure who keeps losing jobs due to his wide array of nervous tics. When Rainbow Pictures announces that it’s looking for an actor to play a romantic powerhouse, Rudy breaks for Hollywood with his wife (Carol Kane), who unbeknownst to him has a crush on Rudolph Valentino. Nothing, of course, goes right, but when the missus leaves Rudy just before his audition it propels him to a performance that cinches him a place in the finals, and also to the guidance of Valentino himself. Wisely, Wilder crams his threadbare plot with people doing ridiculous, bizarre things, with his alter ego doing everything in his power to humiliate himself. The ever unusual Kane proves to be perfectly cast as the excitable woman who wants more of a life beyond acting out a sex manual’s number eight position. Dom DeLuise also has his archetypal role as Rainbow’s terrifying chairman, who abuses the one person in his entourage who won’t be a yes man. It’s not a laff-riot, exactly, but you’ll find it strangely watchable, safe in the knowledge that some bit of self-degrading nonsense will be by every five minutes or so. It even goes a long way to justifying its connection to Fellini’s The White Sheik, with the master even thanked in the end credits. The only extra is a commentary by Wilder, which is pretty sparse and mostly praise for Carol Kane. (Fox)