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MOVIE REVIEW:Renaissance Man
Penny Marshall supplies yet another average movie in a filmography
strewn with them (Big being the exception) but it's certainly far from
the worst thing you could watch, even if it is a little overlong.
Danny DeVito plays the failed ad exec (and failed husband, failing
father . . . . general failure) who is eventually given a new job after
some time claiming unemployment benefits. The snag is that his new job
is on a military base, educating young soldiers who are lacking in some
areas of basic comprehension (who call themselves the "double Ds"
meaning dumb as dogs*-**). As he struggles to find a way to connect
with them and actually teach them he also tries to sort his own life
out, which includes lining up a new job. Of course, we all know that
what he really needs to do is concentrate on his job in hand and also
learn from the kids as much as they learn from him. Oh yes.
So far so Dead Poet's Society/Dangerous Minds and the film never strays
too far from that template. It's all about learning from each other,
appreciating the differences as much as the similarities and . . .
Hamlet. DeVito is good in the lead role, providing his usual mix of
seriousness and smart-ass sass. The kids are all okay too (to pick a
few examples, Lillo Brancato is as great as ever, Wahlberg does fine
and the lovely Stacey Dash is lovely once again) but their characters
are all typical archetypes such as the trailer-trash boy, the girl
escaping her troubled youth, the smartmouth, the . . . . narcoleptic,
etc. Thankfully, things are picked up by the adult characters on
screen. The ever-watchable James Remar is eminently watchable once
again and just superb while Gregory Hines plays a decent hardass who
really has the best interests of his kids at heart.
There ARE a few decent twists in here that you might not expect but,
overall, it's business as usual for this type of movie and you're not
going to see anything you haven't seen before. Comfort food for the
masses, which can be quite bland at times if you're trying to please
See this if you like: Dead Poet's Society, Dangerous Minds, Danny
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Movies with story about one teacher/one messenger are so many. I think
it got no certain time to flourish or to be a common fashion. As the
cinematic and the TV movies have to deal with the matter of
one-loyal-messenger-whom-sent-to-rectify- young-underachievers quite
yearly, maybe because it's a forever catchy touching subject, maybe
because education still an exploding case in the USA, or maybe for both
In a school, a playground, or in the army, the story is all one. And
the great thing about it is not that it works every time but that it
has a messenger who's teaching and studying at the same time, to change
and be changed also.
Here..(DeVito) at his best, it's a nice polished atmosphere, tranquil
rhythm, smooth photography, and great soundtrack that summarized the
personality of the movie as a very simple sweet one. However it doesn't
utilize a lot of what it brings up, or characters it presents.
The drama wasn't hot whereas the alterations have been perfected so
easily, for instance : (Gregory Sporleder) as Pvt. Melvin, a unique
invalid character that beats his family problems and frustrations by
sleeping, became suddenly one smart student at the end who understands
Shakespeare brilliantly !
You'd find a misused character and I mean for sure (Gregory Hines)'s, I
didn't just grasp what was the need of his character Sergeant Cass ?!,
simply he could be a part of the duel as the one who, one way or
another, hampers the mission of the hero, or maybe the one who
represents the violent side of the military whom excessively may be
unable to see the meaning of this mission in the first place. Actually
the final result was that yet in so idiot way !, (Hines) was totally
wasted in scenes where he looked so kind and supporting at the physical
drills !. So when (Hines) listens to the Shakespearean monologue to
turn into more soft person, more estimator for (DeVito)'s efforts you
have to ask yourself what he was turning from basically ! And to tell
you the truth according to all what we saw till this moment, (DeVito)
was the one who needs to show more respect to (Hines), he was the wrong
one with him not the other way around. Making that Sergeant that mild
from the very start weakened it, along with the duel, and made his
alteration, if there is any, kind of naive.
As for the dialogue I felt bad while the scene of the students read
"why I joined the army" whereas they were all poets, and so eloquent.
Or correctly speaking in the same eloquent poetic way !
I didn't like the whole scene of (DeVito)'s descending the wall. It
wasn't to demonstrate how further that teacher may go to apologize to
his students, but to have a scene which (Danny DeVito) the short fat
guy hanging over a long sharp vertical board. It was absurd and
..Speaking of which, how all the military forgot about honoring a
formal hero of it (the father of the neat private) ?, to have that
sentimental scene at the end with the fatherly teary eyes (Cliff
Robertson) decorates the young man. In fact this is a rare time not to
condemn the "System" in a one teacher/one messenger's movie !
I think that writer (Jim Burnstein) with director (Penny Marshall)
wanted nothing but a fine dream out of so dark subject, to show it in
plainly lovely way (more to discuss it openly and deeply) through that
small world which's close to bonbon where Shakespeare solves everything
Despite all of that, it is optimistic movie that makes you love to
watch it, to give you hope that Renaissance is not an impossible thing
to achieve, and Hamlet can be a wonderful rap song after all. So it is
simple and sweet before being weak at parts.
One of the most moving experiences in cinema I had during the Nineties
was watching Renaissance Man. It's more than a comedy about
underachievers realizing their potential. It's about the man who makes
them realize their worth as human beings getting quite an education
about life himself.
Danny DeVito is that man in a role about as far removed as you can get
from Louis DePalma in Taxi and Lawrence Garfield in Other People's
Money. He's an advertising man who loses a couple of big clients while
getting stuck in traffic and gets bounced from his job.
Needing an income while looking for a job, the Michigan Unemployment
Department gives him an interesting job, a civilian remedial education
teacher for the United States Army. He's assigned to a class of eight
trainees who might wash out if they don't shape up. It's their mental
attitudes that need adjusting.
A little trial and error and DeVito hits upon the idea to use
Shakespeare, specifically Hamlet as a teaching tool. Interpreting and
learning life's lesson from one of the greatest works of literature in
the English language apparently works and in ways far beyond making
these trainees get through basic training.
This is my favorite film with Danny DeVito and he's not an easy fit
into army life. Cliff Robertson, James Remar, and Gregory Hines are
some of the army people he deals with.
But the eight trainees are the heart of the film. Mark Wahlberg, Lillo
Brancato, Kadeem Hardison, Richard Jones, Khalil Kain, Gregory
Sporleto, Stacey Dash are seven of them. One of them doesn't make it
through and ironically because of an act of kindness. But my favorite
in the film is Peter Simmons who plays Private Brian Davis from Grand
Forks, North Dakota. It's young men like him and his father before him
in Vietnam who was killed in action who keep this country safe and
secure. He gets the best recognition possible at the end of the film
and you are guaranteed not to have a dry eye when you see it.
Renaissance Man is a beautifully crafted film from Penny Marshall and
should not be missed when broadcast.
While trite in some ways, this is still a very enjoyable movie. The
relationship between the teacher and the drill sergeant is wonderful,
and Danny DeVito is great. While the ending is predictable, the misfits
DeVito is tasked with teaching are a terrific mix of characters. I can
watch this movie over and over for one scene, the speech by the kind of
nerdy soldier who gives the sergeant the "We few, we band of brothers"
speech. His movement during the speech as he switches from a "soldier
in the rain" to an actor reciting Shakespeare is hilarious. And Danny
Devito climbing the tower is priceless.
Watch the movie.
Watch Renaissance Man Online for Free
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