[box cover]

Stealing Harvard

When Jason Lee hit the screen in 1995's Mallrats, his loud-talking but intelligent comic-book-fan character provided a star-making introduction that unfortunately wasn't well received. But his sarcastic comic timing was used in Smith's follow-up Chasing Amy, which led to future work with directors like Cameron Crowe and Lawrence Kasdan. Unfortunately, Lee's also ended up making comedies that castrate his snarky sense of humor and turn him into a stymied and befuddled romantic interest drained of his sex appeal. The whole premise of 2002's Stealing Harvard is that Lee's character John promised his niece Noreen (at a young age) that if she gets into college he'll pay for it. An offhand comment when it was made, it was videotaped, and now John is stuck with a $30,000 bill for Harvard University tuition, due in a week's time. But it's not that John doesn't have the money; he in fact has that same amount in savings — it's just that he was going to use that money to buy a home with his fiancée Elaine (Leslie Mann). Unable to tell the two most important women in his life that one is going to get jilted, he consults his old buddy Duff (Freddy Got Fingered's Tom Green) for some help. Duff convinces John the only way to get the loot is to steal it, which leads to some convoluted attempts at robbery by the pair. Directed by Kids in the Hall alum Bruce McCulloch (who also has a cameo), this kind of "comedy of unpleasantness" is a balancing act for any director and cast, since it involves nice people doing bad things. The movie also features an off-kilter subplot about how awkward Elaine and John's sex life is because of her strange relationship with her dad (Dennis Farina), a man who constantly grills John about his sex life. This type of stuff is as alienating to some as it is funny to others, but for the most part it doesn't work because Stealing Harvard fails to mine humor out of the criminal escapades, and after a while it's hard to feel sympathy for a main character who's afraid to speak the truth. Green lends the film its comic highlights, and there are enough funny asides from both McCulloch and Green to keep the picture from being a total wash. But Lee really needs to be a bit of a jerk as a leading man — as a nebbish he's just a loser. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Stealing Harvard presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include six deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and bonus trailers. Keep-case.

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