Stealing Harvard” is a reminder of just how difficult it is to do what the Farrelly Brothers made seem so effortless in “There’s Something About Mary.” Latest Tom Green (“Freddy Got Fingered”) comedy is depressingly thin and exhaustingly contrived. Only masochistic moviegoers need apply.
The setup: Just after finally saving up the $30,000 that will allow him to marry his longtime fiancee (Leslie Mann) and put a downpayment on their dream home, medical supplies salesman John (Jason Lee) finds out his niece Noreen (Tammy Blanchard) has been accepted by Harvard. There’s one small hitch: Even with the financial aid she has qualified for, trailer park resident Noreen still needs another $30,000 in order to pay for her tuition and, as an old home movie conveniently reminds him (and us), kind uncle John once-upon-a-time promised to pay for Noreen’s higher education.
Pic doesn’t really begin to distinguish itself from the pack of equally wan and unfunny youth-targeted Hollywood comedies until Green manifests himself in reel two, playing John’s old friend Duff, who might just have a plan crazy/brilliant enough to net John that additional $30,000.
This sets off a series of bungled robbery attempts, in which John and Duff find themselves mixed up with the likes of a dangerous bank robber (Chris Penn) and a mysterious millionaire with a predilection for transvestites (Richard Jenkins), and in which a violent convenience store holdup is offered as a riotous set piece. These sequences are as bankrupt and tasteless as they sound, and serve as little more than a springboard for Green to go off on various displays of his patented brand of lewd behavior, all to somewhat muted effect (this is, after all, a PG-13 outing).
But where Green’s much-reviled “Freddy Got Fingered” could at least stake a claim to over-the-top offensiveness, “Stealing Harvard” offers Green in such watered-down form (there is no scene here to match his memorable lasso-twirling of a newborn fetus in “Freddie”) that this enfant-terrible of the MTV generation comes across more like a third-rate, dinner-theater Jim Carrey. And just when it looks like things can’t get any worse, the venerable Dennis Farina (playing Mann’s father) shows up in drag.
Just how Farina, and Jenkins and Penn and Seymour Cassel, got recruited for this treacle is a matter they should all take up with their agents. And while there’s a perception that Green carries a certain cache with 18-25 year olds, and for that reason alone he’ll likely to continue to be in movies for some time to come, it’s hard to believe studios can think this kind of film is more bankable than “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
Wholly undistinguished tech package, which would never pass muster on a higher-profile studio pic, gives “Stealing Harvard” the look and feel of a movie shot entirely on the sets of a daytime soap opera.