Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Stealing Harvard

Posted By on Wed, Sep 18, 2002 at 12:00 AM

John Plummer (Jason Lee) leads a humble life with his fiancee, Elaine (Leslie Mann). She spends her days making lucrative gift baskets while John works at Homespital, his future father-in-law's home medical supply business. Finally, the two have saved up enough cash for a house down payment and marriage.

Meanwhile, back at the trailer park, his niece, Noreen (Tammy Blanchard), has been accepted into prestigious and expensive Harvard. Fortune is shining on John, until he watches a promise he made years ago on home video, and finds out that "these two wonderful things are locked in a death match." He's so desperate, he looks to his deranged landscaping buddy, Duff (Tom Green), for help.

Director Bruce McCulloch, of "Kids in the Hall" fame, works Stealing Harvard around an OK-for-a-stupid-comedy script by Peter Tolan, who's written his way from TV's "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Murphy Brown" to the big screen's Analyze This and Bedazzled (2000).

Tom Green is a guy with his goof meter on full blast, unbearable to most humans, but thanks to McCulloch's direction, he's sufficiently restrained by a straight-man context, made up of the unassuming talents of Lee and Mann. (Instead of responding with equal off-beat absurdity, they look on bewildered and amazed like the rest of us.) And just looking at Lee and Green next to each other makes you laugh. The two function like Siamese twins — Sanity and Insanity — joined at the lame-brained scheme, conjoining a peculiar torque when Elaine's thrown in. Watch for a wonderful little twisted moment between Elaine and Duff and a basket of Gruyère cheese, transforming the ridiculous into sublime, dumbfounding fun.

Although the film’s occasionally weakened by Elaine's overbearing father (Dennis Farina), who travels far too deeply into clichéd tough-guy territory, the majority of the cast deserves a pat on the back, including Megan Mullally as Patty, John's luscious trailer-trash sister with a mouth like a Ginsu knife.

What's cooked up in Stealing Harvard is a weird "funny" that works, not because of what they're saying but how they say it, transmogrifying the film into a charming, moronic foray worth your time.

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