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Movie Review

John and his fiancée, Elaine, have scrimped and saved $30,000—precisely the amount required—to put a down-payment on a house and get married. But just as they reach this threshold of financial stability, John’s impoverished niece, Noreen, announces that she has been accepted to Harvard, and reminds him of a promise he once made to pay for her college expenses when the time came. Well, it’s time. And the timing couldn’t be worse. It just so happens that the budding coed needs $29,879 (what a coincidence!). John must choose whether to go back on his word and condemn his niece to a future flipping burgers, or disappoint his house-hunting bride-to-be. Then, with prodding from his amoral slacker pal Duff, John decides he may be able to keep both women happy by stealing the second 30 grand. The rest of this madcap caper comedy follows the reluctant robbers as their various schemes fizzle, deceptions unravel and the authorities close in.

positive elements: John has his flaws, but selfishness isn’t one of them. He has spent half of his relatively young life being a father figure to his promiscuous sister’s fatherless child. He shows tenderness to Noreen and doesn’t want to let her down. He also cares deeply for Elaine, and can’t bring himself to delay her wedding plans any longer. John initially resists Duff’s nefarious suggestions, stating, "You turn this corner and it’s the whole slippery slope. You let your moral code go out the window." (True, but he doesn’t follow his own advice.) John’s conscience prohibits him from carrying real guns for a holdup, driving the getaway car for a bank job, or taking cash from uninsured victims. At various junctures, he wants to confess his dilemma to his fiancée and sister (complications always drive him back to desperate measures). John is tempted to disregard his promise to Noreen as an off-hand remark, but Duff reminds him, "An oath is an oath. You took a sacred oath." Lines of dialogue emphasize being true to one’s word. Fallout between John and Elaine illustrates the need for honesty in romantic relationships.

spiritual content: John ponders the existence of a higher power, debating within himself about whether concepts such as "fate" and "destiny" apply.

sexual content: John calls his sister, Patty, "sexually indiscriminate trailer trash." She has had so many trysts that she doesn’t know who Noreen’s father is. John walks in on Patty just after an implied encounter with three men. Duff says he idolizes a 13-year-old boy he once knew who got two young girls pregnant. A dog pleasures itself on Duff’s leg. Even though they’re not married yet, John and Elaine live together and have sex often. Snippets of several romps are shown with the couple in bed, in a shower, on the floor, in Elaine’s dad’s office, etc.

violent content: Slapstick humor appears throughout. John angrily pounds Duff’s head against the hood of a car. Elaine punches John in the face. John and Elaine’s dad get into a fistfight. John whacks a man across the nose with The Club. Elaine’s father knocks a guy unconscious by hitting him with a fire extinguisher. There are no fatalities, but scenes involve gunplay and threatening gestures with firearms. A botched holdup of a liquor store ends with the cashier firing a shotgun at the perpetrators. John’s prospective father-in-law threatens him with bodily harm. A dog sinks its teeth into Duff’s crotch.

crude or profane language: Nearly 50 profanities include misuses of God’s name, several s-words, 10 uses of "a--hole" and an f-word spouted by a gray-haired lady. A teen gives John and Duff the finger. There are also hostile verbal exchanges and crude descriptions of bodily functions.

drug and alcohol content: On several occasions Duff and John hunker down with six-packs of beer. The enterprising Duff buys brew for teenagers and, after being scolded by John for corrupting minors, defends his actions on the grounds that a kid’s right to get drunk is part of the American dream. Duff pretends to be on angel dust. Patty and Duff both smoke cigarettes incessantly. A cop puffs on a cigar.

other negative elements: Noble ends justify illegal means. Duff’s scurrilous uncle, who owns a chain of liquor stores, arranges for Duff and John to steal lottery money from his store. Another plan finds the boys enlisting the help of known criminals. In the end, even Elaine gets into the act, plotting to steal money from her own father. Duff is rude, immature, morally warped, disrespectful toward his ailing mother, hostile to Elaine, and often disloyal to John. John lies to Elaine’s father on several occasions. [Spoiler Warning] There are two keys to John’s ultimate "success": blackmail and gambling. An incriminating photo of a widowed judge who forces intruders to dress like a woman and "spoon" with him provides the means for blackmail. And a winning $1,000 bet on a racehorse at 30-to-1 odds provides the cash. When it all works out, the life lesson John takes away from this fiasco is, "If you show up, do your best and spoon with the occasional judge, you don’t have to believe in fate."

conclusion: Some movies seem carefully crafted to meet the needs of a specific audience. In the case of Stealing Harvard, it’s apparently to provide party-hearty frat houses with a video rental suitable for a Friday-night kegger. As for Tom Green, he’s on a much shorter leash here than he was in the septic Freddy Got Fingered, but not nearly short enough. Don’t believe him when he claims this film is "a PG-13 comedy, fun for the whole family." Avoid this brain-dead, high-concept clinker full of corrupt people, crass humor, hostility and a juvenile attitude toward alcohol.

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Jason Lee as John; Tom Green as Duff; Leslie Mann as Elaine; Dennis Farina as Mr. Warner; John C. McGinley as Detective Charles; Megan Mullally as Patty; Tammy Blanchard as Noreen; Chris Penn as David Loach


Bruce McCulloch ( )


Columbia Pictures



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Bob Smithouser

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