Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Harvard Man" starring Adrian Grenier, Sarah Michelle Gellar


I know the title for this blog is "Basketball Movies for the NBA Lockout", but despite featuring basketball prominently, "Harvard Man" isn't really a basketball movie. In fact, after watching it, I'm not really sure what kind of movie it is, aside from one I never really want to watch again.

THE MOVIE


Score: 1.0 out of 5

Real NCAA teams: Yes

Fictional NCAA teams: No

Notable NBA players involved: Ray Allen has a supporting role, though he's basically gone for the entire second half of the movie

Best basketball moment: There's a scene with Alan and Marcus (Ray Allen) talking and practicing, and Ray literally doesn't miss a shot.

Worst basketball moment: When Alan ignores a wide open Marcus for a potential game-winning three. I know it's part of the movie's narrative. It still kills me that Ray Allen was open for 3, and didn't even get the ball. He's Jesus Fucking Shuttlesworth, for God's sake.
Alan (Grenier) is the point guard for Harvard's basketball team. The movie starts with him having sex with Cindy (Gellar), his girlfriend-ish thing from Holy Cross, at the same time Alan is supposed to be playing against Holy Cross. Alan and Cindy finish having sex, at which point Alan realizes he's late -- and so is Cindy, since she's a cheerleader for Holy Cross. They both rush to the game, where Harvard proceeds to get its ass kicked, much to the frustration of both Alan and his buddy/only good player on the team Marcus (Ray Allen).

While that is happening, a tornado is ravaging Alan's hometown in Kansas, destroying his family home. He flies home and finds out his parents' insurance doesn't cover tornado damage, but they say they'll be alright. Alan heads back to Harvard, where he has sex with his philosophy professor while also discussing the dangers of LSD (this becomes important).

Alan decides to ask Cindy -- who's dad is a mob boss -- if she'll ask his dad to loan him the money. Dad says no, but Cindy comes up with her own scam: she'll tell Alan that dad said yes, so long as he shaves points against Dartmouth. Then she'll bet big on the game, give Alan the $100,000 he needs from the winnings, and make some quick cash on the side.

Alan thinks about it, consults with Marcus about whether or not it means anything that they win, since the team sucks anyway, and decides to do it. He shaves points in the most obvious way possible, ignores Marcus for a potential game-winning three, and Harvard loses.

Cindy goes to collect her winnings, but Teddy doesn't have it all. He tells Cindy that his assistant will stop by her place in a couple hours with the rest of the winnings.

Marcus comes by Alan's room and pulls a gun on him, accusing him of throwing the game. Alan admits he's in danger, but tells Marcus not to worry about it, and it was a one-time thing. He then flies back to Kansas with the money, and some high-grade LSD he got from a friend who is a chem student. He gives his parents the money, and Cindy waits around for the rest of her money. Kelly finally shows up, and it turns out she's an FBI agent, and so is Teddy. Kelly detains Cindy, and Teddy joins Alan on the plane back from Kansas, but not before Alan ingests 15,000 micrograms of LSD (3 tabs; he was only supposed to take one at a time).

From here, the movie breaks into three parallel paths that occasionally intersect. For purposes of brevity, I'll condense them thusly:

- Alan is tripping balls, escapes from the FBI twice, but is so out of his mind that he could die at any minute
- Cindy is worried that Alan is going to confess to the FBI, sending both her and her father to prison, so her father sends two goons after Alan
- the FBI agents need Alan, as part of a bigger case against Cindy's father.

Amazingly, with all this going against Alan, he manages to call Chesney (the anti-LSD philsophy teacher who he's fucking), who gets him to a doctor and gets him clean. Chesney also happens to be in a three-way relationship with Kelly and Teddy, and sets them up in a compromising position, which Alan photographs and uses as blackmail against them.

In the end, everyone goes their separate ways, and Alan has another mini-trip, leaving us to question if everything is still OK for him or not.

THE REVIEW
I don't know any way to describe the experience of watching this movie other than "painful". The plots just continually get layered upon each other, until everything gets unraveled neatly in the end, the dialogue is stilted and forced and the cinematography is aggressively rough, with frequent cuts in the middle of sentences for no reason and constant unnecessary camera movement. It's a movie that tries so hard to be something more than it is that it ends up being less than it could be.

The biggest problem with "Harvard Man" is that it's not content having a primary conflict that drives the film. Instead, it keeps adding additional conflicts on top of each other, eventually collapsing under the weight of its own confusion. If you took the entire LSD plot out of the movie, you could still have a really good movie about point shaving, mafia involvement, love triangles and consequences, and it might be a movie people wanted to watch. Or, make a movie about a drugged-out, point-shaving basketball player and drop the whole FBI and mob angles and you've still got something interesting. But with so much in the mix, any sort of main themes get lost, particularly when, in the end, there are literally no consequences for the main character.

I'm sure the filmmaking style used by writer/director James Tobeck appeals to some people, but I honestly couldn't stand it. Scenes were frequently inter-cut with each other, sometimes up to three at a time, rather than playing out in a standard linear fashion. Single shots would be cut up multiple times, resulting in constant jumpiness, and the dialogue was either shot or edited in such a way that the natural pauses that exist when people talk in real life were completely eliminated. Plus, the LSD sequences go on for far too long; I get trying to establish what the character is experiencing, but this went beyond "establishing" into "re-living".

The only thing that really salvaged the viewing experience for me was the acting from the two female leads, Gellar and Joey Lauren Adams. In fact, outside of Grenier and Allen, the majority of the acting in this movie was pretty strong. It's not enough to salvage the material they're working with, but it's still pretty impressive, particularly for Gellar, who gets to take another swing at the type of character she played in "Cruel Intentions".

THE BASKETBALL

The movie is set at Harvard, which has a lower standard than most Division I schools, but I still can't get past Adrian Grenier as a Division I player, much less one who's considered to be good. He's like 5-foot-10, which I guess is somewhat acceptable for an Ivy League starting point guard, but he's also rail thin, and it doesn't particularly look like he can shoot.

On the other hand, there's Ray Allen, who is basically the exact opposite of Grenier as a basketball player.

The basketball scenes are shot decently enough, though they definitely end up looking more like high school than Division I. Also, the timing of everything in the opening scene just seems absurd, but no more so than anything else that happens in this movie.

NBA EQUIVALENT

When he was drafted, Ray Allen was immediately traded for Stephon Marbury. Now, imagine if that had happened, and as they were swapping hats, Marbury immediately turned as insane as he would end up being circa 2009, and just started guzzling vaseline. This movie would be the equivalent of that trade, at least from the Wolves perspective.

BETTER OR WORSE THAN A LOCKOUT?

At some point come December, the NBA lockout's going to feel like a bad trip, so I guess this movie is really about the same.

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