Stealing Harvard

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Bruce McCulloch
Starring: Tom Green, Jason Lee, Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina, Seymour Cassel
Rated: PG-13

The nicest thing that can be said about Stealing Harvard (which might have been called Freddy Gets Molested by a Dog) is that it’s not as obnoxious as Tom Green’s earlier cinematic foray, Freddie Got Fingered. That’s not only faint praise, it’s not entirely praise. While Stealing Harvard isn’t likely to challenge Freddy as “the movie most likely to be walked out on,” it’s one where theatre attendants will have to awaken patrons who have nodded off. Constraining Green and relegating him to an essentially supporting role (despite the top billing) doesn’t make the man any funnier. It doesn’t make him any cleverer. It doesn’t make his particular brand of humor any more comprehensible. Before he was at least jaw-droppingly awful. Now he’s simply boring. As a measure of Freddy Got Fingered’s almost mythical badness, when customers ask what the scariest movie in the store is, a local Blockbuster manager invariably answers, “Freddy Got Fingered. ” There’s a kind of loopy greatness to that. No such accolade will ever be applied to Stealing Harvard — a picture destined to be forgotten before it even makes it to home video. Everything about the movie is tired and dull. Its real star, Jason Lee, who has been so good in other films, stalks through the proceedings with the grim determination of a man who knows he’s in a stinker and wants to get it over with. You can’t blame him — thrust into the role of an upwardly mobile schlub, John Plummer, who once ill-advisedly promised his “sexually indiscriminate trailer trash” sister and her daughter that should the daughter get into college, he’d foot the bill. Just how the girl who bombed out of a spelling bee — unable to spell “tarp” — managed to get accepted by Harvard is never explained. Perhaps it’s simply because that’s what screenwriter Peter Tolan (America’s Sweethearts) wrote. In any case, John needs $30,000 to honor his promise, and that is where his brain-damaged buddy, Duff (Green), comes into the picture. Duff — who runs a singular landscaping business that apparently involves replacing healthy plants with dead ones — immediately suggests a life of crime. This is where the laughs are supposed to kick in as the movie details their criminal adventures. The material is so formulaic and predictable, and executed so flatly, that the sequences never take off. John’s encounter with a gun-toting property owner who makes him dress up like his late wife and “spoon” with him isn’t so much funny as odd. When the man tells him to keep his mouth shut because no one will take John’s word over the word of a putatively upright pillar of society, it’s painfully obvious that the script is setting us up. Subsequent efforts at robbery are no funnier, playing out with clockwork predictability. Even the movie’s attempts at peculiarity seem tired — Tom Green receiving the attentions of a libido-crazed dog is a hold-over from Tolan’s screenplay for America’s Sweethearts. (Should this apparent obsession crop up again, the man should seek help — or set up a very specialized website.) Director Bruce McCulloch can’t seem to distinguish between a movie and the Kids in the Hall skits he used to helm (at least those were funnier). His approach is as drab as the material. According to the unfunny outtakes at the end of the film, the movie was produced under the title, Uncle...something I was ready to cry long before it limped to its conclusion.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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