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STEALING HARVARD

2002, dir. Bruce McCulloch
82 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Jason Lee, Tom Green, Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina.

Review by Noel Wood

Every once in a while there's a movie that you just want to hang your head in shame after seeing. One that you shuffle out of the theater, hands covering your face, in case you happen to run in to anyone you know, because you're that embarassed to have been in the theater playing that particular film. IT doesn't happen often to me. But it did happen with STEALING HARVARD.

    

If you were to pitch this movie to me, I'd probably be all over it. Why, exactly, I'm not sure. I mean, none of the parties involved are exactly proven commodities in the world of good movies. As much as I love Jason Lee in so many things, his presence does not equal a good movie, as KISSING A FOOL has taught us. As funny as Tom Green can be at times, I've heard from several people that FREDDY GOT FINGERED was unsalvageable. And even though Bruce McCullogh was among my favorite "Kids in the Hall" players, he ain't exactly Scorcese when it comes to his directorial boasts ( I mean, DOG PARK was just kinda there, but come on Bruce, SUPERSTAR?) But somehow, those names still all register as plusses in my psyche, so the idea of this film would appeal to me regardless.

I guess that's how they get you. Because STEALING HARVARD is bad. Okay, actually, let me modify that a bit. If you've never seen another comedy in your lifetime, STEALING HARVARD is probably going to split your sides. But that's exactly the problem. Everything here is "Been there, done that, seen it before" type stuff.

    

The premise is simple enough, and could have been the basis for a much better movie. Basically, you've got John Plummer (Jason Lee), who has building quite a little nest egg with his fiance Elaine (Leslie Mann). They've managed to save $30,000 to put toward the down payment on a house. Unfortunately, though, many years ago John made a promise to his niece Noreen many years ago that he would pay for her to go to college if she were ever accepted in to one. Of course, she gets in...to Harvard. And the cost of everything after her financial aid and grants turns out to be, coincidentally enough, $30,000. Of course, John is determined to keep his promise to both Elaine and Noreen, so he enlists the help of Duff (Tom Green), a high school buddy who has some connections to the seedier side of things, to help him steal the money. Unfortunately, John's boss, also Elaine's father, is extremely overprotective and doesn't trust John as far as he can throw him.

The jokes plod along predictably, with all kinds of pratfalls standing in the way of John getting a hold of his cash. John breaks into a house occupied by a lonely widower who forces him to don a wig and a gown and spoon with him. John and Duff recruit a thug from their school days, David Loach (the usually likeable Chris Penn, being wasted here), to rob a bank, but things go afoul and they draw the ire of Loach and his gang. The two also attempt to rob a liquor store owned by Duff's shady uncle, but being manned by a hotheaded teenager weilding a weapon larger than he should be able to carry. This tips off the police, who bring the duo in for questioning.

    

Of course, when things start to melt down for John, he desperately confesses everything to Elaine, who -- get ready to suspend disbelief for a second -- totally sympathizes with John, and although she's so close to her father that they hold hands in public and share ice cream cones, offers up a plan to help John rob her father's store. The final sequence is a parade of tired physical humor gags that leave you with a feeling of deja vu, as well as a bad taste in your mouth.

Yup, everything here is recycled. There isn't much you haven't seen in a hundred other comedies before. The stereotypes are all intact. Dennis Farina plays Elaine's father, and while he does a really good job of playing Dennis Farina per usual, he's a pretty generic overprotective father, complete with token angry dog sidekick. Speaking of said angry dog, he gets in for some animal-chase hijinks toward the end of the movie that are ripped out of every comedy movie ever. Tom Green is at his worst here when he's playing Tom Green, whether it be mugging for the camera by overexaggerating every step he makes while trying to neak around, or trying to break a plastic window with a chair to avoid the aforementioned ornery dog, who finally gets satisfied after getting a mouthful of Green's crotch.

    

Yeah, there is a chuckle here and there, but with most of them you'll find yourself looking around to make sure nobody saw you doing it. Plus, there are some respectable turns by Lee, Farina, and Megan Mullally as John's Trailer Trash sister, at least given what they have to work with. John C. McGinley and Chris Penn have a little more trouble making their characters work, although both tend to be quite respectable character actors. But overall, this thing is a waste of time. I know it took 7 dollars and 90 minutes of my life to a place that I never want to be faced with again.

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