Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
"Renaissance Man" is a labored, unconvincing comedy that seems cobbled together out of the half-understood remnants of its betters.
Watching it, I felt embarrassed for the actors, who are asked to inhabit scenes so contrived and artificial that no possible skill could bring them to life. It's hard to believe that this is the work of Penny Marshall, whose films like "Big" and "A League Of Their Own" seemed filled with a breezy confidence.
The movie stars Danny DeVito as a divorced and broke Detroit advertising man who is fired from his job. He applies for unemployment compensation, and his counselor eventually finds him a job - as a civilian instructor on a nearby Army base. His assignment is to take a classroom of eight difficult cases and somehow increase their "basic comprehension" - of everything, I guess. This is made more difficult by DeVito's own lack of any basic comprehension of how the Army works.
The class seems impossible to teach, and besides, he's no teacher. In desperation he begins to talk about Shakespeare, and the students, desperate for action, encourage him to say more. Eventually the class turns into a seminar on "Hamlet," and we are subjected once again to the dishonest fiction that academic knowledge can somehow be gained by enthusiasm and osmosis. Why, the students' mastery of the subject is so profound that in no time they've put together a classroom rap musical based on Shakespeare's story! (It helps that one of the students is played by Marky Mark.) My doubts about the possibility of teaching Shakespeare in this way are surpassed only by my doubts about how the exercise has anything to do with the Army. Those doubts are shared by a drill sergeant (Gregory Hines), who thinks DeVito is simply wasting the time of his recruits. The formula of this story requires DeVito to eventually "prove himself" to the sergeant, and the moment I saw the base's "Victory Tower," a dangerous obstacle course involving lots of climbing and crawling, I knew with a sinking conviction that sooner or later DeVito would be climbing down walls on ropes to win the respect of the men.
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