Review: With Honours
Well-meaning, but singularly-focused Harvard Law student Brendan Fraser has a First World problem when his computer crashes right after having finally completed his thesis that the majority of his grade will depend upon. Worse, his one and only hard copy somehow ends up in the possession of a cantankerous homeless man (played by Joe Pesci) currently occupying the basement to one of the University buildings. Fraser catches the man, named Simon just as he’s starting to use the paper in the furnace to keep himself warm at night. Ever the opportunist, Simon agrees to give the kid one piece of paper for every favour he does him. And boy is Simon gonna milk this for all it’s worth. Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, and a surly Josh Hamilton play Fraser’s roommates, whilst Gore Vidal turns up as a condescending, arrogant professor, in a couple of cornball scenes.
I remember seeing this 1994 Alek Keshishian (one of his few feature film gigs, he’s best-known as a music video guy and director of “In Bed With Madonna”) flick back when VHS was a thing, and I seem to recall thinking it was OK. Seeing it again in 2018, it’s probably on about the same level. It falls a bit short of a recommendation, thusly. However, so far as Joe Pesci-driven movies go, it’s better than “My Cousin Vinny”, “The Super”, “The Public Eye”, and “Jimmy Hollywood” if that’s worth anything. It’s one of Brendan Fraser’s better films too, but don’t examine that statement too closely either.
Joe Pesci brings more to the table here than Brendan Fraser, but that’s mostly because the colourful role Pesci plays lends itself to stealing the spotlight. Fraser’s fine, but his character is a bit of an issue for me. I’m just not sure I buy this guy taking a genuine interest in Pesci’s welfare by the end of the film. He’s a likeable actor, but screenwriter William Mastrosimone (the playwright behind the infamous “Extremities”, of all things) doesn’t give him enough to work with there in showing us the believable transition. Also, it takes about 10 seconds of screen time for the audience to surmise that Fraser and Moira Kelly are gonna get together at some point, in 1994’s most blatantly obvious screen romance. That said, they’re a good fit so you still want to see them get together. The socioeconomic stuff is mostly pretty corny, sappy stuff. It’s not an especially impressive script.
To Mastrosimone’s credit he has written one excellent scene where Pesci meets his long-abandoned son…and he’s not let off the hook. At all. Nor does he deserve to be. Also, there’s admittedly a couple of interesting moments in the socioeconomic angle of the film where Pesci shows Fraser mementos of his ‘life’, including the last night of good sleep he had. So there’s good in the film, even if the film overall isn’t quite good. I actually think as much as the film is a showcase for Joe Pesci, Moira Kelly and Patrick Spacey steal any scene he’s not in. Kelly is charismatic and deserved a better career, whilst Dempsey was attempting to move away from the geek roles here on his journey to miraculously becoming ‘McDreamy’. He eventually got there, and here he is as always, among the best things. He always tended to be the best thing in any film he appeared in, mostly because he made a lot of mediocre films. Rounding out the most early-to-mid 90s cast ever, Josh Hamilton instantly reminds one why he never really worked out, stardom-wise. Playing a boring and humourless mope, he’s dull and brings nothing at all to the film.
Cornball drama is a fine showcase for the talented and versatile Joe Pesci and probably a bit underrated. Patrick Dempsey and a loveable Moira Kelly also shine. It is however, a very formulaic film, and not nearly as good as you’d like it to be. It’s not bad, but you won’t remember much afterwards either.