Renaissance Man (film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Penny Marshall|
|Produced by||Penny Marshall
Andrew G. Vajna
|Written by||Jim Burnstein|
Ed Begley, Jr.
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Editing by||George Bowers|
|Distributed by||Touchstone Pictures|
|Release date(s)||June 3, 1994|
|Running time||128 minutes|
In Australia, the film is known under the title of Army Intelligence. The film was also remarketed several months after its initial release as a comedy, this time as a drama under the title of By the Book.
The title is an allusion to a "Man of Knowledge" (see List of Renaissance men).
Bill Rago (DeVito) is a divorced advertising executive down on his luck. When he loses his job in Detroit, the unemployment agency finds him a temporary job: teaching a class at a nearby U.S. Army training base, Fort McClane.
Initially unenthusiastic, Rago finds that he has only six weeks to teach a group of "squeakers," or low achievers, the basics of comprehension and use of English language. Most of the soldiers are only semi-literate and equally unenthusiastic.
Unable to connect with his pupils and desperate to spark their interest, Rago quotes from his favorite play, Hamlet by William Shakespeare. They are unfamiliar with it (or even the concept of a "play") and a small initial spark of interest is generated. He casts each student as a character in a classroom reading, then takes everyone on a field trip to a live performance by professionals. He introduces them to Shakespeare's Henry V as well.
Despite the disapproval of their hard-as-nails Drill Sergeant Cass (Hines), and the loss of one of the trainees, who is revealed as a drug dealer hiding under an assumed identity, Rago sets an end-of-term examination. Even the friendly Capt. Murdoch in charge of the project doesn't expect the soldiers to pass Rago's class, adding that if they fail, they will be discharged from the Army.
While on duty, on a dare from Cass in front of other men, one of the soldiers recites the St. Crispin's Day Speech by King Henry V while in full combat gear in the middle of a rainstorm during a night exercise. The students then all pass Rago's class, with flying colors.
Rago meets and dates Marie, another soldier in the records department, who helps him do some investigation before the base's graduation ceremony. It results in one of his students being awarded a medal his father was to have been given posthumously, after he was killed on duty in Vietnam.
As the proud soldiers march at their passing-out parade, Rago is saluted by his "graduates." He signs on to continue teaching soldiers-in-training.
- Danny DeVito as Bill Rago, an advertising executive who loses his job. He applies for unemployment and is ultimately offered a temporary teaching job on a U.S. Army base. Bitter and frustrated, he finds himself unable to comprehend the strict structure of the Army.
- Gregory Hines as Sergeant Cass, a strict Drill Sergeant, who makes it clear to Rago upon their first meeting that he finds classroom teaching of this civilian's "students" to be a waste of time and money, mockingly calling him "Shakespeare." In turn, Rago nicknames him "Lou".
- James Remar as Captain Tom Murdoch, an official at Fort McClane and a supporter of Rago's, who is always busy but finds himself amused by Bill's initial frustrations.
- Ed Begley, Jr. as Jack Markin, Rago's advertising partner, who does his best to defend Bill when he comes under fire for losing a business deal.
- Lillo Brancato, Jr. as Private Donnie Benitez (Horatio), a soldier from The Bronx, who was originally part of a street gang. He enlists after his young sister is killed in a gang shooting. After seeing Henry V with Rago and the class, he buys a copy of the play to read himself, and later recites the St. Crispin's Day Speech for Sgt. Cass while on night maneuvers.
- Stacey Dash as Private Miranda Myers (Ophelia), the sole female soldier in the class. Prior to joining the army, Miranda's mother ran off with a man and left her alone. While riding a bus for two days she found herself staring at an Army recruitment sign with the slogan "Be all you can be," so she enlisted.
- Kadeem Hardison as Private Jamaal Montgomery (Ghost of Hamlet's Father), a wise-cracking soldier who jokes around and taunts everyone in class.
- Richard T. Jones as Corporal Jackson Leroy (Laertes), a serious soldier (and Montgomery's best friend), who had previously been an all-star football player before an injury forced him to give up his dream. He is bitter about having been encouraged to only pursue sports, leaving him with only a handful of options. He is married and a father-to-be.
- Khalil Kain as Private Roosevelt (Nathaniel) Hobbs (Hamlet), an intelligent, mysterious soldier who intrigues Rago to encourage officials to explore his background in hopes of promoting him. While the research is being conducted, the officials uncover that he is actually a drug dealer who joined the Army with a fake identity to escape warrants for his arrest from selling crack. His discharge and arrest devastates Rago and the rest of his students.
- Peter Simmons as Private Brian Davis, Jr., a soldier needled by others for continually discussing his deceased father, who was killed in the Vietnam War before he was born. When roles for the class version of Hamlet are handed out, he's not thrilled about being cast as Queen Gertrude but accepts it after its revealed that all parts were played by men in Shakespeare's time. Rago proves this by performing a Juliet soliloquy.
- Gregory Sporleder as Private Melvin Melvin (Polonius), a redneck soldier, well known for falling asleep under any situation. It is implied that he enlisted to escape the abuse he endured from his stepfather. Upon receiving a letter, he learns that his younger siblings have begun to receive the beatings in his place. During the final exam, he notes that all royal characters in the play are either killed or commit suicide, and the only two characters who live on are "Fortinbras and Horatio... a soldier, and a student... ain't that something?"
- Mark Wahlberg as Private Tommy Lee Haywood (King Claudius), a tough-talking soldier from a trailer park, who had previously worked in a mill with his father before it closed down. He enlists in the Army hoping to see the world. Due to his objection of Private Davis's being cast as the Queen (because he's the King), for once he takes more teasing than Davis.
- Alanna Ubach, as Emily Rago, Bill's daughter. It is Bill's continuing desire to provide for her that he takes "any" job.
- Isabella Hofmann as Marie, a soldier who sparks a romantic interest in Bill.
Renaissance Man received many negative reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars out of a possible four. Ebert said that "the touch that was used so well in director Penny Marshall's previous films Big and A League of Their Own are totally missing in Renaissance Man and it feels like a cross between Dead Poets Society and Private Benjamin but does not have the warmth or spirit of those films". He also wondered what Devito's character teaching Shakespeare's plays had to do with the training of the military recruits. Ebert gave it a thumbs-down on his television show, but partner Gene Siskel enjoyed it as pleasant fare and gave it a thumbs-up.
The film flopped at the box office, grossing only US$24 million domestically on an estimated budget of US$40 million. It was hindered by competing with summer blockbusters such as Speed and The Lion King.
After failing to draw in much of an audience as a comedy, the film was marketed as a drama and re-released a few months later under the title By the Book, again without much box office success.
- Renaissance Man at the Internet Movie Database
- Renaissance Man at AllRovi
- Renaissance Man at Rotten Tomatoes