A thought occurred to me while watching Accepted. Whereas once the college campus comedy flourished with the likes of such classics as Animal House and the original Revenge of the Nerds, the genre has all but dried up with only the occasional Old School or Van Wilder popping up every so often. If Accepted proves anything, it's that maybe the genre died because there's just nothing left that hasn't been done already. While certainly watchable, first time director Steve Pink fails to keep the laughs coming after a fairly successful first half hour. When the film starts to run out of gas, we are forced to check off the genre cliches in order to keep ourselves entertained.
Things seem bleak for recent high school graduate Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) when he is rejected by every college he applies for. His old fashioned parents (Mark Derwin and Ann Cusack) hold firm to the belief that a person is nothing without a college education, and wear their shame over the fact that their son has not been able to get into any college on their faces for all the world to see. Desperate for a way to get back into his parents' good graces, he teams up with his nerdy best friend Sherman (Jonah Hill from The 40-Year Old Virgin) to create a website and a fake acceptance letter for a fake college called the South Harmon Institute of Technology (or S.H.I.T. as it is affectionately called). Bartleby teams up with his friends to turn an abandoned mental hospital into a suitable campus, and hires a disgruntled former teacher turned foul mouthed shoe salesman (Lewis Black from TV's The Daily Show) to pose as the campus Dean. The parents buy the act, but things take a turn for the worst when a large group of slackers, stoners, and losers show up at the front door of South Harmon. It seems that they too have been rejected by every college they applied to, only to be accepted by the fake one Bartleby and his friends created. In order to keep the scam running, Bartleby will have to introduce a rather unorthodox way of teaching, and avoid the advances of the evil Dean Van Horne (Anthony Heald) from a rival college who wants to expose the scheme and shut South Harmon down so he can use the land for his own purposes.
Let's face it, just about everything you can do in a college comedy has been done, and Accepted does absolutely nothing to break the mold. A wild beer party set to the song "Blirtzkreig Bop" by The Ramones? Check. An evil dean teaming up with an equally evil jock frat boy to ruin the fun of the main characters? Check. A pretty and popular girl is dating the evil frat boy until she finds out that he is unfaithful, and discovers that the dorkier main character is much more caring and understanding toward her? Come on, do I even need to say it? The film actually starts off pretty strong, and seems that it will be a parody of the education system. The early scenes where Bartleby and his friends try to pass off a ranting extremist as their Dean to their parents are fun, and there are plenty of laughs in the film's first half hour. I actually started to get comfortable that the movie knew what it was doing. But then the other students show up at the door of South Harmon, and things quickly go downhill once the movie becomes an endless series of music montages set to the wild students partying to rock music, skateboarding, smashing into things, and blowing stuff up. The film never quite lives up to the promise the first half hints at, which is a shame, because the writers had a strong thing going here before they lost their nerve.
What's most bizarre about Accepted is the studio's insistence on watering down a film tailor made for an R-rating so it can receive a PG-13. This gives the film an overly sanitized feel that betrays everything the movie stands for. Didn't anyone at the studio realize that this was going to hurt the movie more than it helped? Why cater to a preteen audience when they're not even the audience that you're supposed to be targeting in the first place? And another thing, your decision to tone the movie down is obviously going to keep your core college audience away, as they will instead decide to wait for the "Unrated" DVD release later this year. Not only will this hurt the film's chances at the box office, it just doesn't make a lot of sense in the long run. Besides, a lot of the jokes are not appropriate for the preteen crowd, including the students and faculty referring to themselves as "shitheads" numerous times because of South Harmon's abbreviation. Because of this unwise censoring decision, numerous jokes are set up only to have no punchline or pay off whatsoever. I really would have liked to have seen some of the classes the students come up with South Harmon, which includes everything from "Slacking 101" to "The Decline and Fall of Chevy Chase". (Now there's a college course I would seriously sign up for.) But, aside from a few fleeting glimpses during certain montages, we never get a true sense as to what the school is about.
Perhaps what's more bizarre than the studio's decision to market the film to the wrong crowd is the filmmaker's decision to cast the 28-year old Justin Long as the 18-year old Bartleby Gaines. While Mr. Long certainly has a boyish face and doesn't come across as out of place as a teenager as he probably should, it still seems somewhat awkward to see him trying to pass himself off as a high school student, and talking about plans to create a fake ID. I really hope that he can advance into some more adult roles soon, because it's going to start to become very creepy if he's still playing these kind of roles in about two years or so. The rest of the cast are a nondescript group of stoners, idiot, and geek stereotypes that have been around in these kind of movies since the 80s. The one and only stand out in the cast is Lewis Black as the borderline psychotic former teacher. He generates the biggest laugh out loud moments during his early scenes that it's a shame the movie all but forgets about him as it goes along. We get little bits and pieces of his rants against society and the education system during his "lectures" that he gives to the students of South Harmon, but I have a sense we missed out on the good parts due to the film's PG-13 rating. Lewis Black is an underused comic gem in this movie, and it's the filmmaker's own fault that he was not used to the best of his ability.
In the end, Accepted comes across as being almost hypocritical due to its own sanitized tone. The movie ends with a long and impassioned speech about the values of free thinking and anti-conformity. Then they go and give into corporate greed, censoring the movie to their desires. It certainly doesn't make any sense to me, and it winds up making the film less than it could have and should have been. Ask yourself this question: Would Animal House be remembered as fondly today if director John Landis toned down John Belushi's performance? It's too bad that the makers of Accepted never asked themselves this question while they were in the editing room. Maybe if they had, we'd have a better movie.
See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at Amazon.com!