Stealing Harvard

The first 10 minutes of “Stealing Harvard” are raucously funny, full of zip and energy and surprises.

Then Tom Green shows up and puts an end to all mirth and goodness. He is the brick wall to the film’s speeding automobile. His presence, like arsenic in a cake batter, changes the film to the point that even the good parts seem tainted by it. It becomes a Tom Green movie, rather than a movie that happens to include Tom Green.

To be fair, the parts of the film not directly related to the MTV prankster suffer from a fast descent into unoriginal puerility and illogic, too. But Green’s parts are most egregious, and most ill-fitting with the rest of the film. I envision the script having pages that say, “SCENE 15: Tom Green does something ridiculous; supplies own dialogue; other characters stand by and react uneasily to him.”

The likable Jason Lee plays John Plummer, a spineless shlub whose fiancee Elaine (Leslie Mann) dominates him, as does her thuggish father (Dennis Farina), who is also John’s boss.

For convoluted reasons that don’t make sense even in the movie, let alone in real life, John resorts to lying and theft as a means of raising money to help finance his niece’s college education. For this, he enlists his dangerous and stupid friend Duff (Tom Green), whose schemes never work and who has no code of ethics, yet whom John still considers his best friend. They embark on a series of impossible shenanigans designed to steal money from wealthy people and businesses. All of them fail, but the failures do not inspire introspection in John or Duff, nor do our heroes attempt to evaluate what has caused such moral bankruptcy within their souls. Indeed, the ethics of the scenario are ignored entirely, and the problem is ultimately solved with absurd ease, but not before Tom Green engages in comic bestiality, as is his wont.

The laughs, when they exist, come from Jason Lee’s easy-going performance, with help from the dizzy Leslie Mann and sharply funny Megan Mullally as John’s trailer-trash sister. Elsewhere, there is desolation.

The director, former Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, ought not have given Tom Green so much free rein. Green cannot act: Even when reciting lines from the script and not of his own creating, he sounds like some guy off the street and not like a real actor. The difference between him and his professional co-stars is distinct. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Green ruins what might have otherwise been a reasonably mediocre movie.

D+ (1 hr., 22 min.; PG-13, a lot of profanity, a lot of crude language and sexual dialogue.)