Movie Review: Stealing Harvard
Release Date: September 13, 2002
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
· Bruce McCulloch
· Jason Lee
· Leslie Mann
· Tom Green
· IMDb: Stealing Harvard
by Jim Pappas
Published: September 14, 2002
On a warm, perfect, March evening in Los Angeles in 2003, the 2002 Academy Award winners will be announced. None of the people involved with making “Stealing Harvard” will be making a trip to the podium to collect a statuette, and if they are in the audience at all, will be serving the function of seat fillers.
The story begins with narration by John Plummer (played by Jason Lee), a lower middle class employee of a home medical supply store, who lives with his boss’s (Dennis Farina, as Mr. Warner) daughter, Elaine (Leslie Mann). He tells us how much he loves his girlfriend, and how they have saved enough money ($30,000) to afford the initial cost of a home, which is the condition he and Elaine had set to meet before they would get married.
However, the $30,000 he has saved happens to be about the exact amount his niece, Noreen (Tammy Blanchard) needs to finish paying for her college expenses. The niece is the daughter of John’s sister Patty (Megan Mullally), a promiscuous denizen of a trailer park. While visiting his sister, he watches a videotape that shows Noreen as a child, crying after having been ousted from an elementary school spelling bee (on the first word). The tape shows him promising that he would pay for her to attend college, in his mind only as a way of trying to bolster her self-confidence. Little did he know that his niece would be accepted at Harvard, and now expects him to make good on his promise.
Torn between his love for his wife, and his feelings of obligation for his niece, John sets out on a quest to raise enough money to satisfy both of them. This is where things go wrong for him, as he chooses to ask his emotionally and intellectually challenged best friend Duff (Tom Green) for help. Duff’s best suggestion is to bet $1000 on a 30-1 shot at the local racetrack. Unfortunately, John doesn’t choose to follow that advice, but instead ends up attempting to steal the money, first from a wealthy local resident, and later from a liquor store in a plan conceived by the store’s owner, Duff’s uncle Dave (Bobby Harwell).
Written for the screen by Peter Tolan, from a story by himself and Martin Hynes, “Stealing Harvard” is just so pointless, and it’s characters so unsympathetic, that I have to wonder what motivated anyone to want to make this picture. The director, Bruce McCulloch, does a creditable job of leading the cast through the script, but it is just wasting his talent to do so.
There are moments of such deadpan seriousness in “Stealing Harvard”, that I could not decide if I was watching a comedy, a satire, or a dramatic presentation. I really cannot fathom for what target audience this film was made. The only redeeming value I found in “Stealing Harvard” is that it avoids insulting anyone or any group.