If the new college comedy Accepted reminds you of one of those zany '80s movies starring John Cusack, it's not entirely by coincidence. It was directed by Cusack's friend and frequent collaborator Steve Pink, and the leading man is Justin Long, a young actor who has a cynical, boy-next-door shtick that recalls the best moments of Better Off Dead (even if he lacks Cusack's droopy, hound-dog eyes). Hell, even Cusack's big sister Ann shows up in the film, playing an uptight mom.
The movie has something else in common with those Reagan-era teen flicks: It's wildly uneven. For a rude, crude anti-authoritarian comedy, it's surprisingly smart, and there are a handful of zingers that are destined to be quoted by undergrads for years to come. Better yet, Long and several of his co-stars including Strangers with Candy's Maria Thayer, The 40-Year-Old Virgin's Jonah Hill and foaming-at-the-mouth comedian Lewis Black have the sort of fine-tuned comic timing that makes the lines sing. If it weren't for a pointless snobs-vs.-slobs subplot and Pink's uninspired staging and camerawork, Accepted would deserve an A for effort, if nothing else.
The movie takes the Revenge of the Nerds and Old School template and applies it to the understandable stress of teens trying to secure a spot in the college of their dreams. Bartleby (Long) and his pals are all underachievers who want nothing more than to spend their next four years doing keg stands and trying to get laid; unfortunately, even their backup schools have raised standards beyond their meager GPAs. Skilled in the art of fake-ID design, Bartleby forges an acceptance letter and voilà he's found a way to please his parents and tap into their college fund for him.
But to keep up the ruse of the fabricated South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.), the enterprising Bartleby has to find an actual building (in this case an old mental institution), a dean (a shoe salesman played by Black) and a curriculum ("Rocking Out 101"). Then there's the problem of all the other losers who want to enroll in S.H.I.T. based on its fake Web site, and the crusty dean and uptight frat boys of neighboring Harmon University, who are determined to take him down.
Accepted is likable enough, and the quick patter of the dialogue is impressive. In different hands, a script like this could've become a quirky cult hit like Rushmore or a Gen-Y take on a minor classic like Real Genius. But first-time director Pink isn't skilled enough to pull off some of the movie's lamer jokes i.e., motorcycles crashing into swimming pools and spontaneously combusting cars and he's chosen a score that's as lame as anything from the '80s. Here's hoping the cast of Accepted graduates to bigger and better things soon.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.