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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • 6 Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer

Harvard Man

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 94 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Like oh my god! Buffy’s gone and been all cheaty on Angel - and that big army lunkhead Riley - and Spike. What a hussy!

What’s that? Not real you say? Oh… oops, my bad.

For as we all know, Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t actually Buffy, she’s a serious actor. Well, she is Buffy, but when she’s Buffy she’s only acting. Yes. After all, with such strings to her bow as Cruel Intentions, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scooby Doo, that’s serious acting, right?

Harvard Man is another in her canon of Mr Pointy-free works, and being a creation of James Toback (Black and White) you’d probably expect it to fit into that serious category, despite what is on the surface a setup which sounds like a typical collegiate comedy.

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...and I want a 'Flower Power' Barbie, and a little pink Beetle Bug for her to drive around in... and, and, and a pony, and...

She’s a cheerleader, Cindy Bandolini, who’s bonking a basketball player from Harvard, Alan Jensen (Adrian Grenier). She’s also the daughter of a respectable real estate and construction mogul – well, after all, just because his surname ends in a vowel doesn’t mean he’s a gangster, right? Erm wrong, actually. With quite the penchant for sports betting – and not necessarily at the sort of odds us mere mortals are given, plus a couple of dopey henchmen on the payroll, he actually fits the description of “mob boss” quite well. After Alan’s parents discover that their farm isn’t exactly in Kansas any more after falling victim to a twister (and duh, we’re not talking rampaging chicken strips in a piece of pita bread with one or two miniscule chunks of salad, OK?), and having their loss uncovered by insurance, the young Jensen is left racking his brains as to how he can help his folks get back on their feet. Having a rather loaded girlfriend, he puts the hard word on her for a loan, which is subsequently passed on to her father, who is happy to help – as long as Alan throws an upcoming basketball game against Dartmouth, a game which should be an easy win.

"Crime is a word. $100,000 cash is real."

After a brief and feeble slap-spat with his conscience, Alan does his deed, and all seems good – he has the money and his parents will be set. But on the return flight from dropping it off he decides to pop not one, not two, but three acid sugar cubes a chemistry major friend of his concocted. From here his world goes somewhat seriously melty and weird, and when you add to his state two FBI agents who have been investigating rigged sports events and Bandolini in particular on his tail, not to mention Cindy and she who he’s also been sharing the love about with, Chesney (Joey Lauren Adams) – his philosophy lecturer – those two dopey henchmen mentioned earlier, plus a somewhat pissed off team mate, well it’s all too much for one young Harvard stude to deal with, as his dorm room, C45, pretty much becomes the hottest spot in town.

Yes, despite the seemingly comedic crime caper setup, Harvard Man isn’t exactly played for laughs, rather coming across as an often po-faced, regularly psychobabble-enriched, meaning of life search type thingy which to be honest borders more often than not on the utterly pretentious. Combining “arty” editing – scenes often jump about like a hyperactive flea on speed – with regular sex scenes that manage to be about as titillating as a footballer in a miniskirt and a story that apparently aims at being all deep and meaningful, but more often than not comes across as sheer wank (to be honest this isn't the first time Toback's work has smacked of this), in all it’s a strange beastie which manages to salvage some palatable style and a certain entertainment value, despite the fact that it’s simply dripping with inflated self-importance and at times just plain messiness.

  Video
Contract

Making its way into our homes in its lovely original cinematic ratio of 2.35:1, and 16:9 enhanced to boot, Harvard Man scrubs up quite nicely, despite all manner of coloured filtering and other skulduggery that went on in the film’s post-production. Aliasing rears its ugly head on a few occasions, but otherwise things are handled with much aplomb, with an extremely bright, very clean print (the more fastidious may notice the odd miniscule blot here and there) that offers up decent black levels, good detail and even handles Alan’s drug-induced Meltyvision™ with much aplomb. It’s all on a single-layered disc, however with little else included on the disc there’s nothing worth noting in the way of compression problems or the like.

  Audio
Contract

Two mixes are included here; Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 – and the US only got the latter, haha! However, in all honesty there’s very little to distinguish between them (although interestingly they do seem to be slightly differently pitched), with a very front-heavy mix that essentially ignores the subwoofwoof completely, and only rarely has the presence of mind to recall that there are rear speakers to pop off and play about in – such as when airplanes enter the equation. Bloody acid casualties…

All is synched well, although many will find a lot of the ADR work is decidedly obvious in its sound – something which can be a tad distracting at times. Meanwhile, the soundtrack features a number of happening, hip hits from that up and coming rap star Johann Sebastian Bach, coupled with a selection of toe-tappingly catchy, jingly-jangly indie-lite tunes from all manner of bands I’ve never heard of, probably because they’re not British and I’m a total indie snob.

  Extras
Contract

Gimme a ‘F’!
Gimme a ‘U’!
Gimme a ‘C’!
Gimme a ‘KALL’!
And whaddya got?!
A succinct enough summary of the bonus features contained on this disc.

Basically there’s a theatrical trailer (2.05, 2.35:1 non-anamorphic) for Harvard Man plus the Madman Propaganda we’ve come to expect on releases such as this, in the form of trailers for Walking on Water (2:26), The Tracker (2:05), Dinner Rush (1:54), Rain (2:23), Spirited Away (2:17) and the rather intriguing looking local production The Real Thing, although with a five minute trailer it appears that most everything resembling a plot twist – not to mention the ending - has been given away.

The region 1 release may have lacked a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but it did feature a commentary track from Toback, and while it would be very interesting to hear what he has to say for himself in regards to this production, sadly we’re left wanting again.

  Overall  
Contract

In all Harvard Man is quite a strange little beastie, and underneath the multiple layers of pretension and visual masturbation lies a somewhat interesting, in its own way quite traditional, morality and consequences tale that’s been given a bit of a twist or two. It has its moments and is a reasonably diverting watch – the visual trickery employed often actually helping it seem more interesting than it possibly is - however anybody looking for a simple, fun watch will no doubt be left gagging at the many outbreaks of we’re-ever-so-clever-we-are type navel-gazing in what could ultimately be described as a sort of Fear and Loathing in Massachusetts.


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      And I quote...
    "Fear and Loathing in Massachusetts…"
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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