'Harvard Man' has its smart side

James Toback's "Harvard Man" is a brave movie, but not in the way you'd expect.

Sure, it features mind-blowing scenes of LSD trips and eye-opening sex interludes. But what's brave is its desire to merge storytelling and philosophizing. The attempt is courageous, even if the result is wildly uneven.

Ultimately, the movie is an exquisite shambles. But something must be said for a drugs-and-sex opus that's so aware of its Ivy League pedigree that it boasts a Bach musical score and mentions German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger in its advertising campaign. Additional pedigree trivia: Producer Michael Mailer is the son of author Norman Mailer.

Director/screenwriter Toback's autobiographical film uses the sad odyssey of Alan Jensen to pose questions of an individual's fate in the hands of chance and other uncontrollable entities.

Alan (Adrian Grenier) is a Midwestern youth who's a point guard on Harvard's basketball team. He's also a sexual athlete and a fan of hallucinatory substances.

Alan's world starts to crumble when his parents lose their home to a tornado and he seeks a $100,000 loan for their benefit. His parents, incidentally, barely appreciate his willingness to help. This leads to underworld loans and the throwing of a basketball game.

Toback's direction is most imaginative in the trippy LSD episodes. The film's attitude in these segments is cautionary yet fully aware of the drug's appeal. Despite the movie's contemporary setting, the director's split-screen techniques are reminiscent of the 1960s, when the filmmaker was himself a Harvard student.

Eric Stoltz and Rebecca Gayheart deliver the film's best performances as the chief players in an FBI sting operation.


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