January 21, 2020

‘Harvard’ another big failure for Green

In theaters

STEALING HARVARD, directed by Bruce McCulloch, written by Peter Tolan, from a story by Martin Hynes and Tolan, 83 minutes, rated PG-13.

The best thing that can be said for Bruce McCulloch’s “Stealing Harvard,” the new comedy co-starring Tom Green, is that it runs a mere 83 minutes, including the opening and closing credits, which means that the movie itself lasts only 77 minutes, a full 20 minutes shorter than Green’s last film, the woefully rotten “Freddy Got Fingered.”

This is progress worth reporting.

Indeed, at this rate, if Green’s career in movies somehow continues in spite of all signs suggesting otherwise, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that his next appearance on the big screen might be as brief as, say, 57 minutes, and then 37 minutes, and so on, until he’s forgotten by pop culture.

Either way, “Stealing Harvard,” from a one-joke premise by Peter Tolan, is about as fun as the current working climate at Tyco. And with a magna cum low $6 million opening, it hammers yet another nail in Green’s coffin.

The film’s plot, such as it is, follows John Plummer (Jason Lee), a bland, spineless salesman who has at long last saved the $30,000 required to marry his fiancee Elaine (Leslie Mann), a shrewd gift basket designer now willing to wed John since he can finally buy her the home she wants.

Oddly enough, John’s niece, Noreen (Tammy Blanchard), needs the same amount of cash to attend Harvard, a responsibility John assumed when Noreen was a child and he promised to pay for her education after she failed to correctly spell “tarp” at a spelling bee.

Since John is too co-dependent to disappoint Noreen and her trashy mother, Patty (Megan Mullally), with the news that he can’t afford Noreen’s education, he turns in desperation to Duff (Green), a moron with a mullet who suggests they steal the money and hope for the best. As you can imagine, this invites all sorts of problems, not the least of which finds John dressing in drag at gunpoint and “spooning” with a wealthy widower who misses his wife.

Remarkably, this is one of the film’s better gags. And just as on “Will & Grace,” the film gets an undeniable lift whenever Mullally’s dysfunctional saucepot is allowed to undulate on screen. But since “Stealing Harvard” is really little more than a showpiece for bestiality, a whiff of incest, the occasional colon joke and the idea that Tom Green is funny, it all fails just as spectacularly as most of us knew it would.

Grade: D

On video and DVD

PANIC ROOM, directed by David Fincher, written by David Koepp, 112 minutes, rated R.

From its terrific opening title sequence of block letters hovering high alongside Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers to its sweeping, digitally enhanced journey through the walls, nooks and crannies of an Upper West Side mansion, David Fincher’s “Panic Room” is the definitive answer for those wondering whatever happened to style in today’s movies.

It’s right here.

The film, from a script by David Koepp (“Stir of Echoes”), is technically flawless yet emotionally sterile, a great-looking thriller with clear echoes of Hitchcock whose only shortcoming is that it doesn’t offer audiences a shred of substance to help beef up its thinly realized characters and its serviceable plot.

The film stars Jodie Foster as Meg Altman, a wealthy, recently divorced mother who buys a cavernous West Side brownstone once owned by an eccentric billionaire – a man so paranoid about his safety, he outfitted the house with a reinforced steel cubicle called a panic room.

It’s here, in this snug, protective vault linked to the outside rooms through a number of cameras and television monitors, that one would hurl oneself should burglars come creeping in the middle of the night – as they do during Meg’s first night in the house.

In a rousing, virtuoso series of events, Meg, along with her teen-age daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), must escape into the safe confines of the panic room before three crooks – played by Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam in varying degrees of evil – reach them first.

Indeed, what these men want is buried deep within that room, but since Meg and Sarah aren’t budging, complications ensue.

Recalling elements of “Rear Window,” “Dial M for Murder” and especially “Wait Until Dark,” the 1967 Terence Young thriller starring Audrey Hepburn, “Panic Room” is a slick, compelling piece of hysteria peppered with enough twists and turns to keep its focus away from the script’s questionable lapses in logic.

Grade: B

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, occasionally on E! Entertainment’s “E! News Weekend,” Tuesdays on “NEWS CENTER at 5” and Thursdays on “NEWS CENTER at 5:30” on WLBZ-2 and WCSH-6. He can be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.

The Video-DVD Corner

Renting a video or a DVD? NEWS film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores.

Death to Smoochy ? B+

40 Days and 40 Nights ? C-

Monsters, Inc. ? A-

Panic Room ? B

Changing Lanes ? B

Count of Monte Cristo ? B+

Frailty ? C-

Blade II: B+

High Crimes ? C

Queen of the Damned ? C-

Iris ? B

Joe Somebody ? D

The Rookie ? A-

The Sweetest Thing ? D+

We Were Soldiers ? B+

Birthday Girl ? B

The Business of Strangers ? B

Clockstoppers ? C

In the Bedroom ? A

The New Guy ? D

Showtime ? C+

Deuces Wild ? D-

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ? B+

Collateral Damage ? D

Dragonfly ? D

Resident Evil ? C-

Crossroads ? C-

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist: B-

The Time Machine ? D-

Amelie ? A

John Q. ? C-

Pinero ? B

Charlotte Gray ? B+

Hart?s War ? B

The Royal Tenenbaums ? B+

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ? B+

Shallow Hal ? C

A Beautiful Mind ? B

Gosford Park ? B+

I Am Sam ? C

The Majestic ? D-

Max Keeble?s Big Move ? B

Orange County ? C-

The Shipping News ? C

Rollerball ? F

Black Hawk Down ? B

Kate & Leopold ? C+

Monster?s Ball ? A

The Mothman Prophecies ? C

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer?s Stone ? B 3/4

Sidewalks of New York ? B-

Lantana ? A

Vanilla Sky ? B+

Corky Romano ? D-

From Hell ? C

The Others ? B+

Snow Dogs ? B-

Ocean?s Eleven ? B

Waking Life ? A

Ali ? B+

Not Another Teen Movie ? C-

Behind Enemy Lines ? C-

No Man?s Land ? A

Black Knight ? F

The Deep End ? A

Domestic Disturbance ? C

The Man Who Wasn?t There ? B+

Mulholland Drive ? A

Spy Game ? C+

Bandits ? D

13 Ghosts ? F

Donnie Darko ? B

K-Pax ? B-

Life as a House ? C

Original Sin ? F

Our Lady of the Assassins ? B+

Riding in Cars with Boys ? B-

Training Day ? B-

Heist ? B+

Joy Ride ? B+

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