Movie of the Day – Renaissance Man
September 17, 2012 Leave a comment
Alright, the trailer isn’t the greatest it seems more slapstick fuck up comedy than anything else, but I will assure you that this movie is like Dead Poets Society, but it takes place in the army. Make of that what you will. Renaissance Man is one of those movies that I caught on a weird day of channel surfing back when I had cable (yeah I am one of those people) and was surprised by what I saw. Gregory Hines (who isn’t tap dancing), Danny DeVito and a young Mark Wahlberg are the general stars of this decent Penny Marshall movie that has a lot of heart and a lot of Shakespeare for some reason.
Danny DeVito is Bill Rago, a divorced advertising man who is fired from his job. During an appointment at the unemployment office, a counselor finds him a job as a civilian instructor at the local Army base. At the base, he is assigned a group of eight army hardcases. Rago is supposed to increase this group’s “basic comprehension.” Sweating it out and unable to interest his students in anything, he finally latches onto Shakespeare. He turns the lecture into a master class on Hamlet with the students converting the Shakespeare tragedy into a rap musical. Looking askance at all this is drill sergeant Cass (Gregory Hines), who feels that the whole class is a waste of time. Finally winning the respect of his students, Rago now has to win the hearts and minds of the contemptuous Cass and his staff. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi
I will say that this is a decent film from Penny Marshall, where Big and A League of Their Own being her best work, Renaissance Man manages to be heartfelt, but also heavy handed. The deadliest combination in my opinion, but the it manages to balance itself out throughout the film. There are parts that I find enjoyable about the movie, mainly the performance of DeVito and then there are things like the cliche, rag tag group of misfits that fit the mold of army recruit fuck ups. Also the use of Shakespeare in this movie as a driving plot device isn’t something I was thrilled about since it seems so forced in every scene of the movie. I get it! Shakespeare is relevant in all our lives.
What ends up carrying the film is DeVito. He was by far the most enjoyable aspect of this movie with Bill Rago having a full transformation over the course of the movie. It’s character development that I enjoy most and seeing how Rago grows from the grumpy, unemployed ad exec to the charismatic English teacher in the army barracks isn’t a cheap growth. It makes us earn and feel a connection with this character as takes an earnest interest in the teachings he imparts on the students. Some parts do feel forced and overreaching their dramatic arch, namely the entire Shakespeare plot device, but he delivers convincing sonnets and knowledge that definitely feels reminiscent of Dead Poets Society. I appreciate seeing DeVito in this sort of role, one where he can have some freedom to grow as a character, but also growing the other actors in their pigeonholed roles. DeVito is able combine a small comedic moments with the drama filled world of teaching sub-par recruits.
The movie isn’t without its faults, namely the cliche moments that Marshall seemed really intent on showcasing as much as possible in the movie. From Rago conquering of the Victory Tower, proving his worth to the grumpy Drill Instructor Cass (Gregory Hines) to the overused moving speech in the rain by one of the students who recites St. Crispins Day to show that Rago teachings are worth something. It all just swells to the point of being bloated, but I can see why Marshall wanted to do this. Aside from those issues, the movie is still a really good watch. DeVito is impeccable, deftly managing comedic and dramatic acting into a rather gloomy film. Yes, this isn’t a comedy as the trailer makes it out to be, but rather a lighthearted drama that hits all the usual beats of previous movies before it and coming to the comfortable conclusion and character development.