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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Stealing Harvard
Stealing Harvard
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // February 18, 2003
List Price: $27.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 11, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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For the past several years, John Plummer (Jason Lee) and Elaine Warner (Leslie Mann) have scrimped and saved, watching their bank balance gradually increase to the $30,000 they've been waiting to put down on their dream home. John's elated when he gets the news that they've finally crossed the $30K mark, and things seem even rosier when his niece Noreen proudly announces that she's been accepted to Harvard. There wouldn't be a movie if there weren't some sort of catch: John's trailer-trash sister (Megan Mullally) reminds John about a promise he'd made years ago to pick up the tab for Noreen's education. Scholarships and grants knocked out the bulk of tuition, and all John would have to pay is the tidy sum of -- you guessed it -- thirty thousand dollars, due in the middle of the month. Torn between deciding which of the ladies in his life gets to be thoroughly disappointed, John turns to his buddy Duff (Tom Green) for advice. Together, they begin a secret life as well-intentioned criminals, though they can't manage to fully escape the watchful eyes of a detective (John C. McGinley) or Elaine's father (Dennis Farina). Hilarity ensues. Well, in theory, anyway.

Stealing Harvard follows in the fine tradition of other mediocre comedies from Revolution Studios, such as Tomcats and The New Guy. I think I can say with relative certainty that Stealing Harvard is the worst comedy (and if you'd like to imagine me doing the sarcastic "finger quotes" thing every time I type 'comedy', feel free) I've seen in the past year. I even skimmed through my DVD collection just to be sure, and the only close contender is The New Guy. At least that had Eliza Dushku going for it. Stealing Harvard also has some talent behind it, but it's entirely squandered. The movie was helmed by Bruce McCulloch, a former member of the Kids In The Hall whose last ill-advised step behind the camera was Superstar. That movie, which was centered around the unpopular SNL character Mary Catherine Gallagher, garnered substantially better reviews than Stealing Harvard, if that's any indication.

Jason Lee's track record when he's not being directed by Kevin Smith is awfully spotty. For every Almost Famous, there's a Kissing a Fool or A Guy Thing. I would say that Lee phoned in his performance, but he's so dull here that it's more like he asked a P.A. to phone in for him. Then there's Tom Green. Wow. At least in Charlie's Angels. Hopefully Green's movie career is winding down so he can take his rightful place in 1-800-COLLECT commercials or another revival of Match Game. The most memorable performances are contributed by relatively minor characters. Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks' Bill Haverchuck) plays a liquor store clerk who uses John and Duff as a convenient scapegoat for his hellraising, and John C. McGinley (Scrubs, Office Space) is a detective hellbent on tossing 'em in jail for twenty to life.

I've complained at length about the cast, so I guess I need to move onto the movie itself. Stealing Harvard plays like an eighty minute sitcom, the difference being that its small-screen counterparts manage to sneak in a funny joke every once in a while. There's no witty dialogue. There are no intricate setups that payoff in the last reel. The best Stealing Harvard can muster is a dog nosing around Tom Green's crotch and dressing its male leads up in a blonde wig and a mu-mu. The latter's particularly annoying, kind of like jokes about sporks. They never have a punchline, and the fact that it's supposed to be a joke is predicated entirely on the idea that the word 'spork' is inherently funny. Putting a guy in drag once fails to get a laugh, but Stealing Harvard sees fit to do it three times. The same scenario, the same sight gag...three times. I guess the writers figured that if it's funny once, it'll be really funny twice. And the third time...? That's comedy.

Being utterly conventional isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, funny material that's shamelessly pilfered can still be funny. Being utterly conventional and bland, on the other hand, makes for an awfully unengaging hour and change. There's nothing about Stealing Harvard that warrants even the most tepid recommendation.

Video: Stealing Harvard is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it definitely has its moments. When Duff is first introduced, there are several exceptionally crisp and detailed shots that are just bursting with vibrant colors. The majority of the movie doesn't warrant such a smattering of glowing adjectives. Colors are attractively rendered, but fine detail often seems lacking in the grainy, almost soft image. It's likely a very accurate rendition of how the film looked theatrically, but I doubt it'll wow too many home theater enthusiasts.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track featured on Stealing Harvard suffers from the same symptoms as the majority of comedies. Readers who subject themselves to far too many DVD reviews ought to be able to rattle them off by heart: the audio is predominately located front and center, rears largely lie dormant, subwoofer activity is limited...you know the drill. Dialogue is presented cleanly and clearly, and, as is to be expected from such a recent release, there's no underlying hiss or distortion.

Just as Stealing Harvard is blander than most comedies, the same can be said about its audio. The movie begins and ends with pop-punk songs that would ordinarily roar from the speakers, accompanied by a substantial low-end punch. Instead, they timidly limp along, mixed low without any kick or ferocity whatsoever. When I finished watching Stealing Harvard, the first thing I did was hit the trailer gallery and make my way from top to bottom. As I sat through the preview for Anger Management, I was almost astonished by how much better it sounded in the space of one minute and forty-one seconds than Stealing Harvard did for its entire eighty-two minute runtime.

Alongside a stereo French dub are subtitles in English and French as well as English closed captions.

Supplements: The disc's special features are headed up by a series of five letterboxed, non-anamorphic deleted scenes. "Band Candy" (0:29) has a bunch of underpriviledged errr...tenth graders hocking $5 candy bars, and "Hawaiian Punch" (1:35) takes an extended look at Patty's introduction. "Patty and Noreen visit Elaine" (3:56) leaves John fumbling for an explanation when the gals get together and gab, and "Elaine makes a nice dinner but John has to leave" (1:30) is fairly accurately titled. Finally, there's an alternate "Wedding Reception" ending (2:43) which features more madcap hee-larity with the main cast of characters interacting with one another. There's not really any comedic gold to be unearthed in any of these deleted scenes, but their inclusion is appreciated.

Selected filmographies have also been provided for director Bruce McCulloch, writers Martin Hynes and Peter Tolan, and actors Tom Green, Jason Lee, Leslie Mann, Megan Mullally, and Dennis Farina.

Rounding out the extras are trailers for Stealing Harvard and a series of other Revolution Studios releases, including Anger Management, Darkness Falls, Maid in Manhattan, The New Guy, and xXx. All six trailers feature Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and anamorphic widescreen presentations. xXx has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the remaining trailers are presented at 1.85:1.

The disc features 16x9 animated menus and...ack, is that font MS Comic Sans? Stealing Harvard has been divided into twenty-eight chapters. Since I probably haven't complained enough in this review, I feel obligated to point out that the theatrical poster art was much better than this astonishingly dull shot of the cast against a white background.

Conclusion: I like Jason Lee. I like Bruce McCulloch. In the face of all logic, I held out some hope that I might be able to say the same for Stealing Harvard. Nope. Stealing Harvard is not an unredeemably awful movie, but it's about as bland and uninspired as they come. No matter how much of a discount the loss leaders pile on next Tuesday, I wouldn't recommend Stealing Harvard as a rental, let alone a purchase. Skip It.
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