"This story shall the good man teach his son. And Crispin Crispian shall never go by. From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he never so vile. This day shall gentle his condition and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves a-cursed they were not here and hold their man-hoods cheap while any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day"
Ghost here! Thanks for joining me today for yet another
Many films stand in the same spot as my childhood artwork. They may be quite good and suitable films but when someone compares them to something like Citizen Kane it's not quite as good anymore. That comparison wasteland is where we find today's film. Renaissance Man is a 1994 film starring one of my favorite actors, Danny DeVito. At the time of its release it was slammed by critics for having questionable logic, being too similar to other films, being created by producers who in their opinion made much better films than this, and for the fact that it's not actually a straight-up comedy...it's a drama/comedy which some people can find difficult to pinpoint. Are these criticisms on target or have they been too busy looking at other projects to see a good film underneath? Let's take a look.
Upon arriving at Fort McClane, Bill learns that his job is to help a small group of recruits gain some better comprehension skills in an experimental program to help keep them in the service rather than throwing them back out into the street. Each of these recruits has their own back-story of ignorance, neglect, abuse and all sorts of home problems which landed them in this position. Almost everyone involved is not thrilled. Bill is frustrated that his life has lead him to be woken up at 4 am by early morning training sessions when he should be having a desk job. The recruits are frustrated because everyone else in basic training singles them out and they have a civilian as a teacher. The recruit's drill sergeant isn't happy because he believes Bill is wasting his time.
Going to this interview however makes him late to his class which results in the recruits leaving him because they don't feel like he thinks they are worth it. Tracking them down, Bill ends up climbing the Victory Tower, Fort McClane's obstacle course, trying to talk some sense into the recruits and gains their respect in the process. As classes continue he begins to see an alarming amount of intellect from one of his students, Roosevelt Hobbs and attempts to get the army to look at Hobbs more closely as he is smart enough to be an officer. Unfortunately they uncover that Hobbs was a drug dealer trying to hide out in the military and is arrested.
What's Good About It?
The students/recruits are also likeable and well thought out. None of them are overly annoying or superfluous. While each of them have a sort of simplified overarching characteristic it's never too simplistic like children's shows can sometimes make people. They each have a back-story full of tragedy or lack of care and each of them succeed despite this in one way or another. They work well off each other and it feels good to go with them on this journey till they enter full military service. Plus you get to see performances from a young Stacy Dash and Mark Wahlberg.
What's Bad About It?
As I previously stated, this is a comedy/drama and a lot of people just find that an odd combination. It's very difficult to balance out the emotions and weight of the drama with the shenanigans and hilarity of the comedy. You don't want to ruin the jokes with a slam to the gut but you also don't want to pull a Bambi's Mom and have something heavy followed by happy birds. The balance is mostly there but I would have loved to see at least one or two more scenes where the comedy was pushed to the forefront. Perhaps get rid of the Hamlet rap scene or something. Just a little more comedy would have been appreciated especially as this was originally targeted as a straight comedy then was re-categorized after release due to the lack of comedic scenes.
I feel as though there is a fair amount of unwarranted negativity being given by the critics at the time of this movie's release. It was slammed for not making much money at the box office. While that is a problem it was having to compete with the likes of Speed, The Flintstones, and THE LION KING. So of course the movie about soldiers learning Shakespeare isn't going to do well when stacked against those odds. They should have waited for a better release date window and the film might have done better.
It's also been slammed because of the director of the film, Penny Marshall. People kept making comments about how Big and A League of Their Own were so great and this one just falls flat in comparison. I honestly disagree. For my money, this film is just as enjoyable as A League of Their Own and Big it's just a different kind of film. Even if it's not as good as those two it's still a good film and sometimes critics need to not focus SO much on other works done by the people in charge which are considered absolute gems and just focus on the offering at hand because what we were given is something pretty good.
As I've said, for my money this is a good film. It's honestly one of my favorites. Yes it has an identity crisis and yes there may be some questionable logic but if you just sit back and take in what you're seeing you may agree that this is something special. It's not one of the greatest films out there and I dare say it may not even make it in my top 20 but it's still a darn good film that I think everyone should check out at least once.
Renaissance Man is rated PG-13 and is available on DVD from Touchstone Pictures
This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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