There is a fine line between compromising one’s artistic integrity and simply losing one’s touch. Stealing Harvard illustrates both the former and the latter famously.
Stealing Harvard stars Jason Lee and Tom Green, two comedic actors who display severely different styles of humor in roles that are unwisely outside their respective niches.
Jason Lee – who has quite possibly perfected the art of sarcasm in witty roles such as Brodie in Mallrats and Banky in Chasing Amy – plays the token easy-going, good-hearted and just plain ordinary guy, John. Lee has tried his hand at playing this role once before with similarly bland results (see Kissing a Fool).
John’s life is going rather well. He has a good job and is about to marry his girlfriend, Elaine (Leslie Mann). They have saved $30,000, which they are about to put toward their first house. But when John is reminded of his promise to pay his niece’s college expenses, he bumbles through plan after plan trying to steal the money with his dim-witted friend, Duffy (Green).
John must deal with the likes of Elaine’s violently over-protective father Mr. Warner (Denis Farina). John must also persuade David, a small-time gangster, played by the one and only Chris Penn, to help him steal the money he needs.
Green takes on an altogether new role as a character without an inclination for random acts of stupidity. Yes, that’s right, for once Green abandons his tasteless moron-a-thon for a chance at, apparently, proving his worth as a clever comedic actor. Unfortunately, for him, the barren sea of humorless waste that is Green’s wit is brought to light in this film, which, at its best, strips him of his patented idiocy.
Stealing Harvard is equipped with plenty of the imprudent hi-jinx that adorn so many of today’s common comedies. At times, though, the film does have brushes with funny – whenever Elaine and John make love, she cries. And it doesn’t get any better than the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of lit-up 18-wheeler portraits that hang above Duffy’s bed.
But there is more than enough cross-dressing, dog-humping and toilet humor to please the average teenager. Consequently, this film falls short of its aspirations of developing a worthwhile storyline and, at best, only passes a glance at smart humor.
The fact is that Stealing Harvard marks another letdown in a long line of failures for director, and one-time funnyman, Bruce McCullough. It seems it was an eternity ago that McCullough headed the troupe of comedic pioneers who created the masterful, groundbreaking sketch comedy group Kids in the Hall.
In this film, McCullough is once again given the chance to direct a comedic apprentice of sorts, in Lee, and fails to deliver the humorous genius that combination seems to beckon (as with Luke Wilson in Dog Park). It is hoped this film will mark the turning point for both Lee and McCullough – off of the street of insipid humor and back onto the highway of clever comedy.
Contact Nick Margiasso at firstname.lastname@example.org