Renaissance Man Review

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Needing 'time out' from his stressful job an ad-man is persuaded to look after a class of supposed 'no-hopers'. As he begins to learn more about them he sees their potential and finds a way to keep the class's attention while successfully teaching.


The saddest thing about this slick, smarmy movie is that the filmmakers obviously thought they were doing something with dramatic and social content rather than cross-breeding the plots of Heartbreak Ridge and Stand And Deliver to provide Danny De Vito with a vehicle which allows him to run the gamut of his personality from physical comedy to mush-hearted soap.

Burned-out ad man Bill Rago (De Vito) gets a temporary job teaching "comprehension skills" to army recruits who are about to flunk out of basic training on the grounds of dumbness. Naturally, everyone turns out to have a tragic reason for their learning disabilities. While this has a lot of waffle about disillusionment and the need to find something worthwhile to do, it's a movie with a firm eye on its commercial prospects.

De Vito is introduced merrily listening to rap music just like a real middle-aged ad man would be and the young soldiers, including Marky Mark aka Mark Wahlberg, later take the edge off any high culture by doing a rap version of Hamlet. All the recruits have stories of abuse, neglect or disadvantage but these are forgotten before the audience has time to get upset.

There's a Clintonesque compromise as the anti-Vietnam Rago comes to admire the cuddly American armed forces of the 90s, but kindly officers and concerned drill sergeants played by the likes of Cliff Robertson and Gregory Hines are far less convincing a depiction of the treatment of raw recruits in the US army than the foul-mouthed, abusive horrors of Full Metal Jacket or Biloxi Blues. This is a feel good movie which is too mechanically put together to make you feel anything.

This film is a meeting of careers for while the career of Danny DeVito is quickly disintegrating before his eyes, an early appearance by Mark Wahlberg gives him one of his first breaks. It's still a poor vehicle for either, with an implausible pitch, flat jokes with a highly predictable outcome.