Harvard Man

James Toback's semi-autobiographical picture about a restless ivy leaguer on a bum trip may be his most pruriently entertaining movie since his 1978 debut, FINGERS. Promising young Harvard philosophy major Alan Jensen (Adrian Grenier) is dedicated to exploring the boundaries of his conscious world by any means necessary — scholarship, drugs, sports,...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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James Toback's semi-autobiographical picture about a restless ivy leaguer on a bum trip may be his most pruriently entertaining movie since his 1978 debut, FINGERS. Promising young Harvard philosophy major Alan Jensen (Adrian Grenier) is dedicated to exploring the boundaries of his conscious world by any means necessary — scholarship, drugs, sports, sex...he just wants to be "out there," as far as he can go. So he's smoking dope, grooving on ear-splitting combinations of classical and techno music, savoring the adrenaline high of playing for the basketball team and sleeping with both throaty-voiced philosophy professor Chesney Cort (Joey Lauren Adams) and cute-as-a-button cheerleader Cindy Bandolini (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Enter cruel fate: A tornado blows away the Jensen family home in Merryville, KS, and Alan's uninsured parents are in dire straits. He asks Cindy to hit up her very wealthy dad (Gianni Russo) for a $100,000 loan, not realizing that Mr. Bandolini really is a notorious mobster — not an honest businessman whose name happens to end in a vowel — and will expect a favor in return. Alan agrees to throw an upcoming game against Dartmouth, convincing himself that in the cosmic scheme of things this minor moral transgression doesn't matter (and they say a degree in philosophy isn't useful!), but everything goes horribly wrong. Alan's best friend and teammate, Marcus (Ray Allen), is furious. Two sleazy FBI agents (Eric Stoltz, Rebecca Gayheart) come poking around, Cindy's double-dealing agenda is revealed, and Alan incautiously ingests 15,000 micrograms of pure LSD (synthesized by a pal in the chemistry department from the original Sandoz formula) just when he most needs his wits about him. Writer-director James Toback is himself a Harvard man (class of '66), and by his own account his higher education was heavy on the extracurricular activities, including the eight-day acid trip that blew his impressionable mind. Toback subsequently built his career on being the perpetual provocateur, but his fondness for fancy split-screen, stuttering editing and pompous references to Wittgenstein and Kirkegaard (largely delivered by Adams, almost as convincing an educator as the leggy vixen of Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" video) blends uneasily with the titillating material. The story's self-conscious seaminess cries out for the ministrations of a filmmaker like direct-to-video auteur Gregory Hippolyte, who's perfected the synthesis of style and sleaze mix through years of making pictures like CARNAL CRIMES and ANIMAL INSTINCTS.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: James Toback's semi-autobiographical picture about a restless ivy leaguer on a bum trip may be his most pruriently entertaining movie since his 1978 debut, FINGERS. Promising young Harvard philosophy major Alan Jensen (Adrian Grenier) is dedicated to explo… (more)

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