Accepted / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | August 18, 2006 | Comments ()
Since they provide the perfect springboard for youth-oriented comedy and/or the bawdy laughs that accompany hedonism, I suppose these “college movies” aren’t going away any time soon. Sometimes they succeed, though in what manner they want to succeed certainly varies. Revenge of the Nerds tried to rally the Third Estate of college campuses; Animal House merely celebrated profligate partying and insanity-as-humor. These two templates largely became the basis for campus comedies, especially all that National Lampoon’s offal, and both provide the underpinnings for Accepted.
A big initial problem here lies in the rating. Both the aforementioned films and more recent fraternity yuks like Todd Phillips’ Road Trip and Old School had an R that left open many possibilities for sex- or drug-related material that would better appeal to their intended audiences. Accepted, with a PG-13, comes across as a hapless dilettante too soft for college humor but too indebted to it to appeal to anyone else. It tries to be both an Animal House paean to goofiness and lunacy and a Nerds call-to-arms for outcasts who couldn’t get into college — it succeeds at neither.
As the preview promises, the story is light fantasy to the nth degree: After being rejected from eight colleges, goofball Bartleby “B” Gaines (Justin Long) fabricates the South Harmon Institute of Technology (I’m told this leads to an amusing acronym) to appease his parents and mollify his own feelings of personal failure. Lo and behold, the joke grows from a few friends to an entire freshman class that enrolls online and shows up at their makeshift institution. Bartleby and his cronies then run with the gimmick and create an experimental school that invents fanciful names for everyone dicking around.
I’ve found Justin Long to be a fairly endearing actor in the few films he’s been in. He certainly isn’t versatile, but he’s got the right footing for comedy and is affable and easy to watch. The rest of the cast is largely unknown, merely fulfilling some stock roles — there’s a nerd, a babe, an evil frat boy, an evil dean, a spaz, a lunatic, et al. — none of whom have Long’s appeal. But the larger problem is that Accepted’s comedy is so clumsy. Screenwriters Adam Cooper and Bill Collage have collaborated together on only a few projects, including New York Minute, and frankly the pair are already godawful. Long’s character is written to have frequent awkward accidents — he bonks his head on innumerable doors and falls down — but it’s completely inconsistent with his otherwise sharp witticisms, making these scenes feel like random inserts to bolster the flat humor.
Accepted is all predictability, fantasy, and weak characterization that doesn’t quite measure up to even the weaker college junkets like EuroTrip, only boosted by Long and a few manic scenes. Then again, reviews for the movie have ranged from amused to incensed, suggesting that enjoying it may be very context-sensitive. Perhaps if I were in a lighter mood or tripping like hell on ludes (as I suspect many fellow theatergoers were), I may have found myself laughing along. But I wasn’t, and I can’t recommend this middling farce to anyone who might deign to see it.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.