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'Stealing Harvard'

'Stealing Harvard' isn't even dumb fun

Friday, September 13, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If you're a regular filmgoer, you probably are familiar with the quotes that top the movie ads. Floating above the title are endorsements such as "Two thumbs up!" or "The funniest movie of the summer!" or "Pure, glorious fun."

 
 
'STEALING HARVARD'

RATING: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and drug references.

STARRING: Jason Lee, Tom Green

DIRECTOR: Bruce McCulloch

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Those who are unkind might suggest some reviewers are quote whores, willing to say anything to get their name and affiliation in teeny type in newspapers or TV commercials. I've never fallen into that category, but I'm willing to offer my contribution for "Stealing Harvard": "Not as bad as 'Freddy Got Fingered.' Thank God!" (Exclamation points are essential.)

Both movies feature Tom Green, who is joined in "Stealing Harvard" by star Jason Lee as John, a well-meaning guy who patiently has been saving money with his girlfriend, Elaine (Leslie Mann). Once they reach $30,000, they will buy a house and get married.

Of course, just as they pass that magic mark, John gets a call from his sister, who reminds him of a long-ago pledge to her daughter that he would finance her college education. It was a throwaway promise, made in a school hallway after the girl was bounced from a spelling bee. But now, she's gotten into Harvard and needs $29,879. What's a kindly uncle to do?

John, who can't tell Elaine about this, turns to his idiot friend Duff (Green), who improbably works as a landscaper. Duff proceeds to lead John through a series of harebrained schemes that get them deeper and deeper into trouble, attracting the attention of the police, a frequently burgled man, Elaine's father (Dennis Farina), who also is John's boss, and various nefarious characters.

"Stealing Harvard" tries to milk laughs from having a dog attach itself to Duff's genitals or sending the men into a toy store to shop for a gun that can pass for the real thing. In the end, it's an 80-minute buildup to a couple of comic payoffs that come in the final minutes. They're not funny enough to merit sitting through the weak warm-up act.

Farina does the overly protective father act he will turn into a TV role this fall with "In-Laws," while Lee once again is the amiable dupe/dope, and Green the goofy pal (with unmistakable Canadian accent) who lives with his dotty mother. Chris Penn turns up as a brutish criminal, and a bald John McGinley is a cop who shares a disgusting detail about the toothbrush he keeps in his office desk.

Directed by Bruce McCulloch ("Kids in the Hall"), "Stealing Harvard" was written by Peter Tolan, who won Emmys for episodes of "Murphy Brown" and "The Larry Sanders Show." This is a throwaway that sounds as though it started with a title and then someone tried to fill in the blanks with characters and crack-up lines. Maybe there's a reason it's opening on Friday the 13th.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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