Volume 96, Issue 11
Tuesday September 17, 2002

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MOVIE REVIEW: Stealing Harvard

file photo/Columbia Pictures

Stealing Harvard
: Jason Lee, Tom Green, Leslie Mann, John C. McGinley
Directed by: Bruce McCullock

A letter to our friend Jason Lee

Dear Jason,

It's been a while since we last talked and obviously things aren't for the better. Have you been having problems at home? Did you lose your money in WorldCom stock? Something must be wrong, otherwise you wouldn't be appearing in a third-rate movie like Stealing Harvard.

Just look at the premise and let me tell you where it goes wrong. Your character John needs $30,000 to pay his niece's tuition into Harvard University, in order to fulfill a promise made years ago. All of John's money, however, is tied up in buying his dream house with his fiancée Elaine (Leslie Mann). Ergo, John has no choice but to resort to crime in order to get the 30 grand, with the help of his idiot friend Duff (Tom Green).

How could you not see the problem right there?

There are plenty of caper comedies where the main characters think up a zany scheme to get rich quick, but instead of putting its characters in a creative plot, Stealing just has John and Duff attempting a series of petty crimes, like robbing a liquor store or breaking into a house.

There are a few threads which try to connect everything together in the end, but you could drive a fleet of trucks through the plot holes.

Geez, Jason, I thought you were used to the clever scripts written by your pals Kevin Smith and Cameron Crowe. Did you suddenly develop dyslexia?

In addition, a movie like this needs some kind of a threat hanging over the characters. Since John is committed to helping his niece, it would seem his engagement to Elaine would be the part of his life that would be in danger of being ruined.

Elaine's bullying father Mr. Warner (Dennis Farina) is the villain, but since Elaine eventually goes along with John and Duff's plots, Mr. Warner suddenly becomes no threat at all to breaking up the couple.

Perhaps it was the rest of the cast that fooled you, since you're not the only talented performer that got suckered into this one. The director is Kids in the Hall's Bruce McCulloch and, while he may be a great sketch comedian, keep in mind that he also directed the Saturday Night Live movie Superstar.

John C. McGinley provides the only consistent laughs in the movie as the cop who investigates John and Duff's crimes, but his part could have been much larger. Leslie Mann doesn't add much to the standard girlfriend role, though the fact that you get to make out with her several times during the course of the film might explain why you took the role in the first place.

Even the promise of Leslie Mann, however, is countered by the suck factor of Tom Green; the mere mention of his name in casting should've sent you running for the hills.

Green is the kind of comedian who is only funny in a particular environment, such as doing the lunatic stunts he pulls on his TV show. That stuff might work on a 30-minute segment, but it brings nothing to the table in a 90-minute movie. Didn't Freddy Got Fingered teach Hollywood anything?

Anyway, Jason, we can only hope that Stealing Harvard was just a phase you were going through – sort of like a mid-'30s version of puberty.

Maybe it was the chance to play a lead role, but it's better to be a small fish in a big pond than it is to be a big fish in an evaporating puddle.

I just hope you kept Kevin Smith on your speed dial, so he can get you back into a good movie soon.

Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff


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