Penny Lame

So what we're left with is Danny DeVito struggling mightily to carry the picture. To his credit, he almost does it. It's a thankless role, but DeVito's caustic delivery of throwaway lines, such as "I've died and gone to Gomer Pyle's house," elicits more laughs than the material deserves. A lame plot twist is concocted to get DeVito onto the obstacle course, but the sight of the pot-bellied gnome risking his "jewels" rappelling down the face of a four-story tower is irresistible. Subtlety not being an issue here, Marshall milks scenes of a gaudily red-and- yellow-shirted DeVito schlepping about surrounded by platoons of troops dressed in olive drab for maximum fish-out-of-water effect.

At least Marshall's shots of recruits marching and doing calisthenics feel fresh and authentic. Chalk it up to the novelty of a woman director getting a close look at a formerly all-male preserve. The movie could have done with more footage like the brief mail-call scene, where a soldier casually but accurately flips letters to waiting soldiers with a flick of the wrist and a dash of body English.

Kadeem Hardison (A Different World's Dwayne Wayne), Lillo Brancato, Jr. (A Bronx Tale), and Mark Wahlberg (a.k.a. Marky Mark) lend some support as DeVito's students. None deserves major plaudits, but neither do they disgrace themselves. Hardison cracks wise throughout the film. Marshall makes no attempt to rein in Brancato's gratuitous impressions of De Niro in Raging Bull or Al Pacino in Scarface, but as obtrusive and unnecessary as Brancato's mimicry is, it is also funny. In a movie this undisciplined, anything goes.

Which brings us, of course, to Marky Mark. He plays a dumb redneck who enlisted in the army to see more of the world than his trailer park in Willacootchie, Georgia. Mark is a natural, especially at playing dumb. The cracker accent comes and goes, but he's a consistently convincing bonehead. And give him credit A he's willing to laugh at himself. His character is a wanna-be drummer who, as Hardison's character points out, has no rhythm. The skivvy model graciously hangs back while his fellow thespians ham it up during the "Hamlet Rap" number (cowritten by Wahlberg, who also performs three songs on the soundtrack). Mark sings only once, briefly, on-screen A comically mangling an a cappella rendition of "Achy Breaky Heart" while lathering himself up in the shower. Marshall's not a complete fool; she makes certain the coveted Marky Mark pecs are displayed in all their hardbody glory. It was a sound business decision A if Mark's acting didn't cut it, a quick beefcake shot couldn't hurt. After all, male directors have been asking the same of actresses since the dawn of cinema history. Fortunately Mark's acting is good enough that this requirement may not be necessary in the future. You have to pull for old Marky; after all, if Woody Harrelson can model Calvin Klein underwear in his movie, why shouldn't the toyboy rapper give Hollywood a shot? Turnabout is fair play. And they both have bright futures as dumb hicks.

In the end, however, neither Mark's muscle nor DeVito's delivery can save this waterlogged Renaissance Man from drowning in wave after wave of manipulative treacle. When the fort's commanding officer (Cliff Robertson in a power cameo) presents a medal to a DeVito student whose father died in Vietnam, the expression on Robertson's face takes a moment to decipher. Then it comes to you: It's the look of a seasoned swimmer watching helplessly from shore as a novice in over her head goes under for the third time.

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