While we hesitate to endorse the potential underage consumption of alcoholic beverages, there's a fun college drinking game to be played while watching Steve Pink's new comedy "Accepted." For the swiftest possible inebriation, take a drink whenever you see a scene or punchline that's directly lifted from an earlier movie. Fans of "Back to School," "How I Got Into College," "Animal House," "Revenge of the Nerds," "Risky Business," "Old School," "PCU" and the collected works of John Hughes ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in particular) will find it easy to get hammered. Eagle-eyed viewers who have seen "Camp Nowhere" may be passed out before the half-way point. With or without the booze, though, there's plenty to laugh at in "Accepted," a sloppy little film that's often as likable as it is derivative.
Perennial second banana and current Mac pitchman Justin Long draws starring duty here, playing Bartleby Gaines, a high school senior who puts more effort into wacky schemes than into his class work. As a result, spring arrives and he's left with a pile of rejection notices from colleges. Rather than have his parents think that he's a failure, Bartleby joins forces with a group of similarly college-less friends (including characters played by Maria Thayer, Adam Herschman and Columbus Short) to create a fake school, named the South Harmon Institute of Technology. They fix up an old psychiatric hospital, recruit a crazed former academic (Lewis Black) to serve as dean and the hoax is perfect, until hundreds of other disenfranchised teens show up at their door. Soon, non-traditional knowledge is flowing like Natty Light, until they run afoul of the wicked dean (Anthony Heald) of the college down the road, as well as some nefarious frat boys.
The "Accepted" script has been credited to Mark Perez, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper, which seems generous. Long, Herschman, Thayer, Black and Jonah Hill seem to be winging it in every scene. The actors are all fine, with Long proving that he can carry a movie (maybe not that he can carry "movies," but that he can handle this one), Black showing that his shtick can play on the big screen and Hill, as a hopelessly inept aspiring automaton, stealing many a scene. And Pink, a screenwriter making his directing debut, does little more than set up the camera and let the actors roll. "Accepted" has minimal logic, a shambling pace, an assortment of one-dimensional supporting characters and no visual sense, but it has large chunks of memorable dialogue and charm to burn. While not quite as sharp satirically, I'd be inclined to compare "Accepted" and its combination of technical ineptitude and high laugh ratio to Mike Judge's "Office Space."
Although I may be reading too much into "Accepted," I would like to assume that Long's character was named after the classic Melville story "Bartleby the Scrivener," in which Bartleby's response to all requests is "I would prefer not to." The heroes of "Accepted" look at the demands and expectations of the mainstream educational system and reply "I prefer not to," free-thinkers who fit just outside of the mainstream. The movie has a couple simple points about an educational system that tries making all kids think exactly alike and assumes that every student has the exact same goals in learning. It's not complex stuff, but it isn't wrong.
Unlike recent supposedly pro-outcast movies like "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Benchwarmers," "Accepted" seems to have actual affection for its characters, a warmth I suspect will pay off in a long DVD afterlife.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun