"National Lampoon's Animal House" meets "Superbad
" in "College," an unapologetic teen comedy that doesn't so much as wince when it comes to raunchy gross-out humor and earnest male bonding. Both are plentiful, as is the sort of rampant nudity these kinds of films used to have back in the 1980s, but so rarely do now. Zippy, lightweight, raucously silly, and embracing of its well-earned R rating, "College" doesn't pretend to be deep or anything more than it is: a you-are-there, weekend-in-the-life portrayal of three high schoolers let loose on a hard-partying university campus.
Kevin Brewer (Drake Bell) is a high school senior unceremoniously dumped by girlfriend Gina (Alona Tal) for living his life on the straight and narrow. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Kevin does something better: he travels with best friends Carter (Andrew Caldwell) and Morris (Kevin Covais) to freshman orientation at prospective school Fieldmont University and vows to make it a weekend none of them will ever forget. Wild frat parties, myriad adventures, and maybe even a little romance ensues, with Kevin finally coming into his own and learning that he likes himself just the way he is.
"College" is thin on plot, more of a naturalistic slice-of-life that also happens to include a few genre staples. From the smarmy fraternity guys, led by Teague (Nick Zano), who vow to make the visiting kids' lives hell, to the bad guys' grand-scale climactic comeuppance, to the scenes of T&A (and more) intertwined with a more serious romantic subplot between Kevin and fresh-faced collegiate Kendall (Haley Bennett), to the three friends' temporary falling-out and making up, the movie is a return to the care-free, anything-goes attitude of the '80s teen sex comedies. Deep character exploration will not be located here, but all of the binge drinking, nitrous oxide inhaling, scatological humor, and bumpy bedplay one can imagine is in full force. Indeed, "College" goes overboard on occasion, moving beyond the truth of the rest of the film and into a more outlandish zone (is this the biggest party school on the planet or what?), but it's good-humored even when it's threatening the viewer's gag reflex.
The best thing to be said about the film is the direction by first-timer Deb Hagan and screenplay by Dave Callahan and Adam Elison. Having a woman helm this male-skewing project works wonders in helping to avoid easy stereotypes. The girlsmost notably Kendall, Amy (Nathalie Walker) and Heather (Camille Mana)are not naggers, sticks in the mud, or snooty bitches, but kind, free-thinking young women who are just as randy and sexually inquisitive as the males are. For example, when Carter and Amy must hide under a bed while two girls get it on above them, Amy becomes just as amused and turned on by the experience as Carter does. Similar instances happen throughout, defying expectations of how females are usually treated in movies of this nature. Kudos must also go to the wise, refreshing treatment of Carter, the chubby one in the group who, for once, is not defined by his size but by his personality and charm. In fact, there isn't one time during the whole picture when Carter's weight is ever brought up. This may seem like a minor point, but it is crucial in exhibiting the underlying intelligence with which the script has been written.
As Kevin, Drake Bell (2008's "Superhero Movie
") is a servicable yet forgettable protagonist when stacked against his more colorful co-stars. Andrew Caldwell (2007's "Transformers
") is the standout of the trio as the ready and willing Carterenergetic to a fault, uninhibited in his lack of vanity, and lovable even when his character is being sarcastic or shrill. He is someone to definitely keep an eye on. As the reserved Morris, who goes through some changes of his own during the weekend timeframe, former "American Idol" contestant Kevin Covais makes an auspicious acting debut in a role that goes directly against his squeaky-clean persona. It's admirable of Covais to take a chance like this, and he pulls it off. On the femme front, Haley Bennett (2007's "Music and Lyrics
") is likeably casual and unforced as Kevin's love interest, Kendall, and Nathalie Walker and Camille Mana (2008's "Smart People
") offer sunny, humorous support as Amy and Heather. Meanwhile, an extended cameo by Verne Troyer (2008's "The Love Guru
") could have, and should have, been cut without any bearing on the story.
"College" steps wrong in the third act when Kevin, Carter and Morris seek vengeance on the spiteful frat brothers. In effect, they resort to the immature, unsavory level of the very guys they are getting back at, and this is the one instance where the lead characters aren't treated with the respect they deserve. This criticism notwithstanding, "College" earns points for ambition, even within the narrow confines of the ribald campus comedy. More than anything, it will serve as an ideal party movie, probably playing even better drunk than sober. In this film's case, that's a good thing.