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If anything, With Honors can quite simply be summarised as an amiable, yet overly-familiar yarn that is generally harmless, despite a couple of embarrassing attachments (perhaps, Joe Pesci?). Spanning throughout our experiences with film, we’ve been overly acquainted with this pre-packaged genre and its clichéd mechanisms. We’ve seen the on-screen action countless times over and the characters within the story needn’t be developed, simply because we’ve seen so many like them in the past, we already know them; The wise old man; the young lad with potential and the eccentric circle of friends that surround. Although it is compulsive déjà vu, fans of the genre might be willing to take a chance.

With Honors

As the rules would have it, our two characters (who are complete opposites, of course) are going to meet under pressured and unpleasant circumstances to give the story its initial foundation. Early on in the film, we’re introduced to quite a pleasant young guy, Monty Kessler (Brendan Fraser), who’s devoted to his government studies at the renowned Harvard University. After sheer disaster strikes, he scurries off to Harvard’s Widener Library to “Xerox” (boy, I love that term) what’s left of his acclaimed thesis that’s the key to his graduation with honors. As the story would have it, Monty literally slips into quite a sour and unfortunate situation along his path. Upon slipping on a wet sidewalk, Monty’s treasured thesis falls through a grate into the boiler room of the Widener Library, soon finding itself in the grubby hands of a homeless “bum” by the name of Simon (Joe Pesci in an indescribably annoying performance).

If you were this bum, what would you do? Well, Simon thinks its only fair to use Monty’s thesis as a tool for bribery. Simon abruptly informs Monty of the situation at stake. If he wants his thesis back, it’s going to require small trade offs. Quite simply put- upon the return of each piece of paper comes a small favour on Monty’s behalf, the first being a source of accommodation (which ends up being a Combi Van look alike!). Considering the several hundred pages involved here, we can’t blame Monty’s sour reaction.

We can accurately guess where the story is going to take us from here throughout. Along the course of the bargaining between Monty and Simon, an “unexpected” (please…) form of trusted companionship develops between the two of them. As the conflict between the two slowly dissolves, we come to discover that Monty’s character is a mere reflection of a younger Simon. It turns out that Simon hasn’t been a professional bum his entire life, but was once a Harvard mastermind and regretfully threw his chances of glory out the door. Enter yet another horrid cliché. The wasted, yet “wise” older being inspiring his younger project.

The film’s supporting characters, this time in the form of housemates, prove themselves to be quite an entertaining and refreshing backdrop. I think it’s the diversity of character here that furthermore makes the scene a tad more interesting. We’ve got the one and only woman of the house, Courtney (Moira Kelly), secretly trying to hide her romantic feelings for Monty; Everett, the eccentric and entertaining oddball of the house that spends most of the film nurturing his pet rooster(!), and then there’s the third roommate, Jeff, who’s the prescribed sour candy of the packet.

With Honors

Although the film’s premise is extremely general and far from original, it’s a harmless hour and a half that comes with intended giggles and tears (if you’re willing to let yourself be that affected). We know for sure that some of the cast at work here has talent. There’s the eighties leftover, Patrick Dempsey, who’s usually worth a slight chuckle at the least. There’s Brendan Fraser who later on proved his acting ability in the magnificent Gods and Monsters, and then we have Our Cousin Vinny himself, Joe Pesci. Admittedly, I fell in love with Pesci after watching My Cousin Vinny quite some time ago, however, his horrible and annoying portrayal of this character has the potential to ruin the slick and trendy image of Vinny Gambini for quite some time.

Accompanying a film of average quality comes a transfer of a considerably below-average quality. For those folks at home who aren’t equipped with the equipment to allow the playback of NTSC DVDs, you can immediately cross this one from your shopping list. Yes, that’s right, Warner have (quite unfortunately) done it again. In addition to the disappointing NTSC transfer, the package fails to deliver the film in its original widescreen format, alternatively delivering the film in a disappointing pan and scan frame. The colours are quite far from vibrant and at given times are victim to noticeable grain and shadow that may become a distraction to those picky few. Although I’ve seen worse transfers along the course of my experience with DVD, this one can be considered as one of the “terrible few”.

There’s nothing too special here, either.  We’re given two rather weak Dolby 2.0 Surround options, with the languages on offer being English and French. I am unable to offer comprehensive comment on the French soundtrack, however, if it’s similar enough to the English soundtrack, as I would expect it to be, it’s nothing to run home about. I was viewing this film at a considerably higher volume than usual, and even still, the soundtrack was both weak and frail. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the dialogue was crisp throughout. At times it becomes difficult to understand the odd line, so beware folks, you could be missing out on something special! We also have a nostalgic list of songs that create the 1994 backdrop throughout. Madonna’s hit single, I’ll Remember, is an exclusive song featured on the film’s soundtrack, despite it’s irrelevance.

With Honors

Unfortunately, Warner have taken a turn down a familiar avenue and have failed to include any bonus features to toy with on this DVD presentation. Although it will annoy some, is this really a movie that is in that desperate need of extra goodies? Perhaps not.

With Honors is an achingly familiar film that still deserves some credit despite it’s consistent repetitiveness. Its pleasant and fair-natured formula will appeal to some, particularly fans of Fraser. On a more disappointing note, it’s quite unfortunate that the technical aspects of the presentation don’t make this package any more commendable. Surely a package that doesn’t shine with honors.