So the premise goes like this: Jason Lee has to steal $30,000 so that his niece can go to Harvard.
The question then becomes: haven’t they heard of student loans?
The Only Logical Option
PG-13 for crude humor, language, drugs
Okay, let’s be fair. The movie addresses this question satisfactorily. John (Jason Lee) told his niece he’d pay for her college tuition, and unfortunately, his sister caught the promise on tape. The niece (Tammy Blanchard) is getting some financial aid, but not enough.
Coincidentally, John and his fiancé Elaine (Leslie Mann) have saved just enough money to cover the tuition, but it’s earmarked for a house and a wedding. Besides, before John works up the nerve to ask for the money, Elaine has spent it on a down payment for a house.
Logically, that leaves John with only one option: committing a series of comical larcenies with his friend Duff (Tom Green).
These Are the Jokes, Folks
In other words, Harvard and nieces have nothing to do with Stealing Harvard. The premise is just an excuse for Lee and Green to have some fun together. And at that fundamental level, there is nothing wrong with Stealing Harvard. Lee and Green do indeed have some fun. The movie has plenty of jokes, and many of them work.
Green gets to mug for the camera with some sick humor (thankfully watered down from his potent MTV show). Lee chimes in with his best shot at comedy, mostly reacting to other people with his dry wit.
The minor characters get to have some fun as well. For example the liquor store clerk (Martin Starr) sees a foiled robbery as a way to spice up his life. The great character actor John C. McGinley gets to play a twitchy police detective. And even Rex the Dog (Zeus) seems to be enjoying himself, perhaps a bit too much.
I hope nobody gets talked into seeing this film without knowing what to expect. Anyone actually taking the movie seriously would be in for a big disappointment. At least Orange County, another recent getting-into-college movie, had something of a soul to it. That movie had some relatively well-developed characters and jokes that served a real story. Not so in Stealing Harvard, which is just 90 minutes of jokes.
Speaking of jokes, one of the most unfortunate is Lee’s fiancé. Mann makes the most of a bad character, throwing herself wholeheartedly into the weirdness written into her part. She goes on dates with daddy (Dennis Farina), and when she and John make love, she weeps. If she were for real, Dear Abby would tell John to get out of the relationship and encourage Elaine to seek counseling.
I suppose the only plausible thing about Stealing Harvard is that someone as obnoxious as Tom Green might still be living in his mother’s garage, earning money by selling beer to teenagers.
See? That’s funny. If it makes you chuckle too, then go see Stealing Harvard instead of wasting your money on education. Otherwise you might want to save your brain cells.