Plot: John (Jason Lee) has a good life. Not a great life, but a good one and one that is about to become better, or so it seems. After years of saving, he finally has thirty-thousand dollars in the bank, the amount his fiance demanded be on record before their marriage. That way, they could put a sizable down payment on a house, start a family, and begin the kind of life most people dream of. John loves his gorgeous fiance Elaine (Leslie Mann), who is a sweet and loving woman, save for the fact that she weeps during sex. This new life he has dreamed of is endangered however, by a casual comment from years ago that comes back to haunt him, when his loose sister invites him over for some news. It seems his niece has overcome her trailer trash genetics and even gotten into Harvard, which John promises to pay for when she was a child. This means he needs to come up with almost thirty-thousand dollars for her college, as well as keep the thirty-thousand for his new life. Even with the help of his friend Duff (Tom Green), can John make crime pay enough to cover tuition?
Entertainment Value: This Revolution Studios comedy has some laughs, but feels like an odd mashup of comedy styles that never gel, so we are left with a fractured movie that never really finds much momentum. Jason Lee’s straight man role would work if it was consistent, but it veers into a lazy slapstick at times and just seems out of place in an otherwise wild, over the top comic blend. Stealing Harvard works best when it runs with the zaniness, as the wackier moments at least have enthusiasm, while Lee’s effort and the attempts at heart feel half assed. This leads to the supporting roles stealing the show and while this provides some laughs, perhaps a more effective lead could have salvaged the movie from middle of the road status. The humor isn’t overly sharp, but it lands often enough and has a kind of almost random, offbeat style that I appreciated, though again, it was the supporting characters that delivered. I think the pace is fine, but slows when Lee takes the spotlight or the movie tries to force in emotional beats, so it is inconsistent, but mostly brisk. In the end, this winds up as a watchable movie for those who liked zany comedies, but it leaves a lot of potential untapped.
Jason Lee’s presence in Stealing Harvard is one of his stranger roles, as he is a poor choice for the role and performs as if he is disinterested. The movie needs an energetic approach to make the wackiness work, so Lee’s tired, half asleep effort just comes across as dull and out of place. Again, I wouldn’t have minded if the role called for a straight man with no sense of humor, but the character slowly descends into craziness as the movie rolls on. Whether he just didn’t care or couldn’t connect with the role, his presence in the lead is a detriment to the movie. I do think the movie handles Tom Green quite well however, using him in concentrated doses that makes the most of his unique style, without overdoing it. He adds a lot to the movie and if nothing else, his enthusiasm is welcome, given Lee’s zombie like persona here. Leslie Mann turns in her usual effort and is fun to watch, while Dennis Farina dials up his antics and plays off his gruff persona to inject some laughs. The cast also includes Richard Jenkins, Seymour Cassel, Chris Penn, Megan Mullally, and John C. McGinley.