If a truly great teacher can change your life, can a movie about one do the same? Well, no, but in the case of Renaissance Man, another commercially-astute-with-feeling film by director Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own), it can provide some solid laughs while reminding you of the precious gifts such teachers have to offer.
A sort of cross between Private Benjamin and Dead Poets Society, this comedy-drama tells the story of a fired advertising executive (DeVito) who lakes a temporary job with the Army teaching remedial English to a group of soldiers known as the Double D squad, for "dumber than dogs—t." How DeVito and his gang discover a sense of self-worth and purpose while studying Shakespeare makes for a somewhat predictable but ultimately entertaining film.
DeVito, the human huggy-bear, is in his adorable mode, which is pretty adorable. Another treat here is Lillo Brancato Jr., who plays one of DeVito's soldier-scholars. A dead ringer both in looks and voice for Robert De Niro (but funny), Brancato steals every scene he's in. Also in the cast is Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark) who, playing a rural recruit, manages not to embarrass himself.
Renaissance Man has its minor lapses and excesses of sentiment, but one willingly forgives them. Any movie clever enough to turn Hamlet into a military marching chant ("Hamlet's mom, she is the queen/ She buys it in the final scene") is worth a look. (PG-13)