James Toback's "Harvard Man" is a fast and clever con-gone-wrong comedy that reflects the writer-director's characteristic blend of the intellectual and the criminal. But it lacks anyone to care about--even the repellent characters are less than fascinating--and the result is a crisply made movie that is no more than mildly amusing.
Adrian Grenier's Alan is a Harvard philosophy major and a point guard on the basketball team. He considers himself a very cool guy, carrying on simultaneous affairs with Cindy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), daughter of a Mafia don who controls the Northeast U.S., and Chesney (Joey Lauren Adams), a philosophy professor six years his senior. With Cindy, a pert but tough-talking type who prides herself on being her father's daughter, the relationship is pure lust; with Chesney, there could be more.
Alan has everything in his life under control until a tornado hits his Kansas hometown and wipes out his parents' uninsured house. In an instant, Alan becomes determined to snag the $100,000 his parents need to rebuild. Where better to turn than Cindy's dad, Andrew Bandolini (Gianni Russo)? Naturally, Bandolini wants a little something in return, and Alan decides it's no big deal to shave a few points off the next game. So far so good, but it all comes undone when Cindy decides to place a $250,000 cash bet on the game with her father's bookie associate Teddy (Eric Stoltz), whose key aide is the sultry Kelly (Rebecca Gayheart). Not helping matters is that just at the moment Alan most needs to keep his wits about him, he decides to drop three sugar cubes laced with 15,000 micrograms of LSD, a gift from a chemistry major pal.
Audacious, imaginatively sustained mayhem ensues right to the finish, but most everyone involved is so craven or calculating or both, starting most crucially with Alan, that it's hard to care much about how everything turns out. The key problem is Grenier (or the way Toback has directed him). He's an able young actor effective elsewhere, but here he's way too much the smart aleck and not nearly charismatic enough to make Alan's fate much matter.
MPAA rating: R, for drug use, language and some strong sexuality. Times guidelines: unsuitable for younger teen audiences.
Adrian Grenier...Alan Jensen
Sarah Michelle Gellar...Cindy Bandolini
Joey Lauren Adams...Chesney Cort
Eric Stoltz...Teddy Carter
Rebecca Gayheart...Kelly Morgan
A Cowboy Pictures release of a Bigel/Mailer Films production. Writer-director James Toback. Producers Daniel Bigel, Michael Mailer. Executive producers Edward R. Pressman, Michael Burns, Jeff Sackman, Peter Locke, Donald Kushner. Cinematographer David Ferrara. Editor Suzy Elmiger. Music Stomy Bugsy, Ryan Shore. Costumes Maxyne Baker. Production designer Rupert Lazarus. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
At the ArcLight, Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, (323) 464-4226; UA Marketplace, 64 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 444-FILM (No. 301); University 6, Campus Drive opposite UC Irvine, (800) 555-TELL.