“Stealing Harvard” walks and talks like another frat comedy but it’s really about family. It’s about a hardworking middle class guy who’s determined to get his niece to Harvard so she can have a better life than he has. It was a promise he’d half forgotten and he doesn’t have the money, but he’s determined.
The middle-class man, John, has saved about 30 K so that he and his fiancee can make a down payment on their dream home, which is the exact same amount his niece needs for her first year at Harvard. He’s so excited when he hears that she got accepted, but now the hard work begins, so he and his best friend Duff(Tom Green) decide to become stickup men to raise the money. We don’t see much of Harvard in this movie.
“Stealing Harvard” opens with promise. It has a good story to tell that it enjoys telling, leading up to the heist scenes. I liked the scene where the sweet niece asks Lee for the money without really asking him and how Lee projects his character as being both a dreamer and a harsh middle class realist. He promised his niece he’d pay for Harvard, but he never thought anyone from his family would get in.
I also liked the relationship between Lee and Green, which is based on mutually shared broken dreams. Lee, who can be a wicked comic actor, is very charming and likable, and you really feel for him when it comes to the needs of the niece which he has to balance with the demands of his beautiful but hot tempered fiancee(Leslie Mann). As for Green, whose acting skills are more microscopically defined, he may have found his niche in this film as an overaged slacker who shouldn’t be allowed to hang around kids anymore.
The movie feels like it’s going to be a lot of fun but I found it disappointing for a couple of reasons. First, after setting up this life of crime that the two characters are about to leap into, the actual crimes themselves aren’t very funny or well staged and they all take the same pattern: the two guys stumble into a liquor store or a rich man’s house, the robberies bog down due to some embarrassing accident and the two guys barely get away. The heist scenes could’ve been really thrilling with even the slightest complications thrown in, like the threat of violence or capture, and how bad does Lee want the money anyway if he’s always popping jokes? What about the possibility that his dream life with Mann could be destroyed? Does he care?
It’s not very funny either and I think that’s the fault of Bruce McCulloch, the director and a veteran of “The Kids in the Hall” troupe. The film is like a series of beginnings and middles that never take off. Scenes go on too long after they’ve made their point like when Lee talks to his stern father(Dennis Farina) who he eventually decides to rob. Scenes don’t pile up in the film and the film never makes its underlying point which I assume is that the haves and have nots can both be criminals but only one group is ever punished.
Then there’s Harvard itself. It didn’t bother me that the film didn’t take place anywhere near Harvard since the film is about what it represents, but I think it would’ve been funny to see Lee and Green attack Harvard since the school itself is such a bastion of privilege and respectability. You know, I heard that this film was originally called “Stealing Stanford” and there’s all the difference in the world between the two images of the schools. If Lee’s niece had told her that she was accepted to Stanford, he probably would’ve told her to sit out a year and get a job because it’s not Harvard, and I think that’s what’s wrong with “Stealing Harvard.” After watching this movie, you get the feeling that there’s a lot of people at Harvard who’ve done worse things than rob a bank to get in.