Stealing Harvard (2002) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Stealing Harvard (2002)

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Danny DISLIKEIt's time for me to come clean.

Eight years ago, during my sophomore year of college, I had dreams of becoming a professional film critic. For various reasons this did not come to be (partly because of apathy, partly because I thought newspapers were doomed with the coming of the internet), but I still spent my weekends toiling as the A&E Editor on the MU Student News. Getting paid $10 an article for writing for the second place newspaper in a small town that revolved around one of the nation's biggest journalism school was a boon, though it should be admitted it was a pretty distant second place.

This story is going somewhere. The job made me slightly infamous, and I was once approached by someone who asked me if the recent Tom Green release Stealing Harvard was worth watching. I told them it was terrible, and to skip it no matter what.

There's only one problem here: I didn't actually watch the movie.

I rationalized my reasoning in a number of ways: too much schoolwork to do, I hated Tom Green passionately, life is depressingly short, et al, et al.

Well, eight years later, I have a movie website, the ability to get the movie delivered to my TV for free, I'm out of college, Tom Green is pretty much a forgotten memory, and I'm still alive. It looks like my excuses have run out. So now it's time for me to return to this long forgotten movie and cleanse myself of the residual guilt involved. Maybe I'll find that I was wrong to trounce a movie I hadn't seen. Maybe I'll find a gem of understatement and brilliance that justifies Green's popularity. Or maybe this film will give me herpes.

My bet is on the last one.

Jason Lee, who can best be described during this phase of his career as "ubiquitous," plays the blandest human being imaginable. He exhibits the charisma of your average lampshade, and all the personality of a limp noodle's nerdier, more pathetic little brother. In the film he plays a doorstop of a human being stuck in a loveless relationship.

His fiance is the completely charmless Leslie Mann. She cries whenever they make love. Who can blame her. She is not a gifted comic actress. Or a gifted actress. In fact, "gifted" may be pushing it in any realm.

Regardless, she and Lee's character have finally saved up $30,000 for a deposit for their first house. Only Lee finds out that he promised to chip in on his beloved nieces college tuition; apparently financial aid isn't enough, and Harvard demands payment of all of its money up front.

Since Lee is out of ideas, he turns to his friend Duff. Duff is played by Tom Green in some combination of his 'batshit insane' schtick and his 'I'm in a PG-13 movie and not the lead role, I will stand over here and say random things in a wacky manner' schtick.  He's a character who gets a line like "I thought I'd eat a brick of cheese. I need my cheese!" and it's said with such a manufactured sense of 'wacky' that it brings your attention to the artifice of the entire film.

The movie moves forward with the classic Idiot Plot, as Lee can't talk to his fiance and get the money he needs because, uh, he doesn't want to, and instead resorts to failing at various forms of larceny. He and Green fail to rob a mansion, a liquor store, and are almost getaway drivers for some bank robbers. That they finally succeed from betting on a horse race is supposed to be heartening.

We get small turns from character actors like Dennis Farina, Richard Jenkins, Megan Mullally, Bruce McCulloch, Seymour Cassel, John C. McGinley, Chris Penn, and Martin Starr; this is a pretty quality guest star list (except John C. McGinley who plays the same uninteresting asshole in every movie), but they're squandered in routine punchlines and bland direction.

The movie ricochets from one dumb coincidence and setup to another. Strangely, the movie makes me almost nostalgic as it's so terribly emblematic of early 00's comedies: the main characters are cardboard, someone from Kevin Smith's stable is above the marquee, there's some lame sex jokes, and there's a wacky guy thrown in to carry the damn thing with his 'edgy' humor. It has the distinct feeling of a certain era, the era of Road Trip and American Pie dominating the multiplex.

Thank God that's done with.

The movie ends with nothing interesting happening as well as nothing humorous. A dog humps Green's leg and he puts on a dress. He still enjoys cheese. Lee gets his cake and eats it too. Mann continued to have a film career despite all odds. Etc, etc.

So what lesson should I draw from this movie? It seems to imply that fate plays a heavy hand in life. My belief is that this is the moral most often conceived by lazy filmmakers who don't know how to end a film.

But I digress: I suppose it was fate that I would have to watch this film, that I would endure it as a strange form of nostalgia and an uncanny reminder of how utterly wretched a film can be. And to be quite honest, my years in college were a blast, and I'm glad I didn't waste a minute of that time on this crap.

Penance complete, fuck you universe, let's move on.

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Stealing Harvard (2002)

This movie is currently available on Netflix Instant and DVD.

Directed by Bruce McCulloch
Starring Jason Lee and Tom Green
IMDB Votes / Rating: 6,795 / 4.7

Posted by Danny

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