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Dustin Putman

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Learn more about this film on IMDb!Accepted  (2006)
1 Stars
Directed by Steve Pink
Cast: Justin Long, Blake Lively, Jonah Hill, Adam Herschman, Maria Thayer, Columbus Short, Lewis Black, Kellan Lutz, Anthony Heald, Mark Derwin, Ann Cusack, Hannah Marks, Diora Baird, Kaitlin Doubleday, Carla Jimenez, Ross Patterson, Travis Van Winkle, Artie Baxter, Tim Bagley
2006 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language, sexual material and drug content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 11, 2006.
A raucous college comedy sparse in rowdiness or laughs, "Accepted" simply regurgitates the clichés of the teen genre hoping that audiences won't realize they have seen it all before. With a tried and true formula in place, Steve Pink, making his ho-hum directorial debut, and screenwriters Mark Perez (2002's "The Country Bears"), Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (2004's "New York Minute") put as little amount of creative effort into the film as they can get away with. In the interim, they barely flinch when faced with a premise that can't be believed for a second. Instead of exploring the characters and their schemes in a palatable manner, they settle for patent caricatures and a plot held together scene by scene with the barest of cohesion.

It's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" meets "National Lampoon's Animal House" when recent high school graduate Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long), discouraged by not getting into any colleges he applied to and afraid of disappointing his parents (Mark Derwin and Ann Cusack), decides to create his own. With the help of some friends who have also been burned with rejection, including Rory (Maria Thayer) and Hands (Columbus Short), Bartleby takes over an abandoned psychiatric hospital, fixes it up, and—voila!—has mocked a fictional university called South Harmon Institute of Technology (i.e. S.H.I.T.). Hiring best friend Sherman's (Jonah Hill) uncle to pose as the dean, the disgruntled former teacher-turned-shoe-salesman Ben (Lewis Black), Bartleby actually fools his parents into believing the school is on the level. What he doesn't expect is that a hundred other would-be college hopefuls also show up at the door, each one carrying with them $10,000 for the semester's tuition. Now, without the worries of professors, exams and supervision, the students of South Harmon set out to make their own rules when it comes to higher education.

How bitterly ironic and more than a little telling that a film based upon anti-establishment beliefs and encouraging one's freedom of expression has been neutered with a PG-13 rating. If ever a college caper practically screamed out for nudity, sex, drugs and spicy language, it's "Accepted." Borrowing heavily from "Animal House," "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Van Wilder," the studio has seen fit to take out all of the stuff people would normally go to see in a movie like this in order to appease prospective 14-year-olds who might be able to raise its box-office gross. This shamefully conformist decision goes against everything "Accepted" is supposed to stand for, and the result is a hypocritical motion picture of minimum worth and only sporadic entertainment value.

Taken as is—a vanilla version of a raunchy romp just a few "s"-words away from Disneyfication—"Accepted" still fails at what it sets out to do. As ludicrous as it is, the idea of faking a school can be done well—1994's enjoyably bubbly "Camp Nowhere" was a middle-school variation on the same topic—but director Steve Pink does a shoddy job of portraying what it might be like to live in a self-made frat house. The logistics—housing a hundred students in dorm rooms in a quaint-looking mental hospital—are never explained, while the daily experiences Bartleby and his buddies go through during their month there are left vague and poorly developed. Practically all that is seen are montages of unorthodox classes (Skateboarding, Girl-Watching 101, Meditation, and The Decline and Fall of Chevy Chase are among the courses) mixed with kid-friendly partying. Because the teens aren't ever shown to be bettering themselves and nary a conversation is had about their futures, the preachy climax, set at a board hearing where Bartleby seeks to get South Harmon accredited as a legitimate university, is superficial and stupid rather than triumphant.

As dork-turned-hero Bartleby Gaines, Justin Long (2006's "The Break-Up") is wrong for the part. The 28-year-old Long is a charismatic performer and decidedly boyish, but he's still too old for the role. Thus, whenever he's onscreen, it is impossible to believe in his character and get caught up in his plight. The same could go for over half of the cast; I haven't seen this many "teens" implausibly played by actors pushing thirty since the early 1980s. As Bartleby's love interest, the sweet-as-apple-pie Monica, Blake Lively's (2005's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") charm and accessibility seems to come from her unaffected, untrained approach to acting.

Because the majority of the other characters are wafer-thin and peripheral, it is the well-defined small part of Bartleby's wise-beyond-her-years little sister Lizzie who steals the show. As delightfully played by newcomer Hannah Marks, Lizzie is anything but a precocious child, and the quirky originality of how she speaks and acts to her older brother as if she were his superior is funnier than anything else in the film. It is difficult to believe Lizzie would exist without the brilliant "Sixteen Candles"—she is written almost exactly like the younger siblings of Molly Ringwald in that picture—but Marks makes it her own.

Thematically streamlined to the point of being colorless and tacky, the only inspired running element in "Accepted" is its soundtrack, featuring well-chosen tracks from Modest Mouse, The Chemical Brothers, and The Ramones, among others. The peppy songs help certain scenes to work by default, while the rest of the time the film stumbles to break free from its insipid laziness, tired gags, and faithful conventions. "Accepted" is without the wily raunchiness of better R-rated teen comedies like "American Pie," and not even half as smart as old-school John Hughes on an off-day. What, then, is the fun in that? Moreover, what's the point?
© 2006 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman