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IN SHORT: Pretentious editing ruins a potentially terrific flick. [Rated R for drug use, language and some strong sexuality. 100 minutes]
The opening minutes of writer/director James Toback's Harvard Man slams you with such an overkill of sound and vision that it is almost impossible to get a fix on which of the four panels of action on screen -- basically two each of a basketball game and of stars Adrian Grenier and Sarah Michelle Gellar having sex -- should be the centerpiece. It is a trying and exhausting start which, if you figure it out, indicates that Toback has got a hell of a lot more going for work that, at first view, doesn't look like more than some experimental crap dished out by a just out of grad school film student. What follows those exasperating opening credits is a twisting, turning story that is fairly brilliant in its mix of corruption, sex and manipulation. The basics:
Alan Jensen (Adrian Grenier) is point guard on the admittedly lousy Harvard b-ball team. While his teammates prepare for defeat, he and Holy Cross cheerleader Cindy Bandolini (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tear up the sheets. Off screen, that F5 we remember from Twister comes out of retirement to level most of Kansas, including Alan's homestead. What's a displaced son to do to raise the hundred grand his folks are going to need to rebuild a house and get out of the high school gym emergency resettlement zone?
While Cindy is fine for doobie induced simultaneous wha-hoo, Alan needs to go beyond dope induced enhancement for advice, which is where philosophy professor Chesney Cort (Joey Lauren Adams) comes in. But first, a discussion of Alan's yearning to go "out of the box," chemically, a desire discussed post coitally with the prof who, in no uncertain terms tells him that "LSD is cyanide." Turning the conversation to his financial needs -- the StudMuffin already has another, less pretty but chemically capable gal pal brewing up a batch of Owsley Original on the side -- the wise blonde tells him to get it from the dumb blonde, Cindy, who's father is a major mobster.
Alan insists that Mr. Bandolini (Gianni Russo) is only in "real estate and construction" -- we never said he was at Harvard for more than his basketball skills. The senior Mr. B's bookie operation is run by Teddy Carter (Eric Stoltz) and his hottie assistant Kelly Morgan (Rebecca Gayheart), who are not averse to running a point shaving scam. From here on out, point shaving, back room betrayals and the importance of three blue sugar cubes, and when and how they are ingested, run the show.
The problem is that director Toback loves the jump cut. You know the annoying, missing frames of film and sound where everything jerks around on the screen. His over use of this gimmick builds a wall between the characters and the audience, which is just the opposite of what good storytelling is supposed to do. It's a gimmick that is appropriate for, say, showing boredom at a lecture or implying some aspect of an LSD trip -- and you get a delightful range of effects for that -- but is used time and time again out of place. By the time the climax arrives, we had ceased to care.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Harvard Man, he would have paid . . .
Rent. Harvard Man is as funny as it is raunchy, as clever as it is corrupting.
Without those damned jump cuts, it could have been one of the big box office surprises
of the summer season, IMHO
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