So maybe “Accepted” isn’t the most original movie in the world.
It’s a little like “Animal House,” a little like “Revenge of the Nerds” and a lot like “Old School.” It also calls to mind elements of “Real Genius,” “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” and “PCU,” which starred a then-unknown Jeremy Piven and seems to be playing somewhere on cable television 24 hours a day — even though it came out in 1994.
And maybe its premise isn’t the most plausible: A bunch of slackers and weirdoes form their own college, where “liberal” doesn’t even begin to describe the liberal arts education.
Doesn’t matter. “Accepted” is a lot more fun than you’d expect from a comedy coming out in the dead of summer, and it’ll make you laugh out loud even though you probably know better.
Directed by Steve Pink from a script by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Mark Perez, and featuring a performance from the infinitely likable up-and-comer Justin Long, “Accepted” has a certain subversive elan that keeps it light on its feet — until the very end, that is, when it turns self-righteous and takes itself way too seriously.
Up to that point, though, who wouldn’t want to be a student at the South Harmon Institute of Technology? (You can figure out the school’s abbreviation for yourself; it’s adolescent and all, but good for a couple of chuckles depending on how it’s used.)
Long’s high-school senior Bartleby Gaines (or “B” as his friends call him) makes up the institution after being rejected from every single college he applied to, knowing that his conservative, traditional parents (Mark Derwin and Ann Cusack) will be devastated by this development.
He drafts a fake acceptance letter and with the help of his tubby best friend, Sherman (Jonah Hill), who actually got into a school (the fictitious Harmon College), designs a Web site that is so convincing, people actually start applying — and thinking they’ve been accepted, too.
Strippers, skateboarders, spazzes and shut-ins — they all show up at the South Harmon “campus” — a former psychiatric hospital that Bartleby and his buddies cleaned up in makeshift fashion to show his parents — ready for the first day of class.
When all these freaks and geeks demonstrate a genuine enthusiasm to learn something, to belong somewhere, the quick-witted, fast-talking B becomes their reluctant leader. And under the tutelage of their “dean” (the hilariously volatile Lewis Black) they create their own courses, with titles like “Walking Around and Thinking About Stuff.”
Naturally they can’t just exist peacefully within their own parallel, poolside universe. They have to clash with The Establishment. The uptight Harmon College dean (Anthony Heald) wants to take over the space where South Harmon sits, and sends a buff, blonde-haired uber-frat boy to force them out.
And naturally, that guy has a girlfriend (the lovely Blake Lively from “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”) who will question her allegiance after spending a little time with the down-to-earth party kids at South Harmon.
All familiar stuff, including a climactic showdown before a regulatory board with much postulating about the importance of free thought and self expression. But, mostly, the banter is snappy and the pacing is brisk, which makes the whole experience much lighter and more enjoyable than you might imagine from the outset. (“Accepted” also has a fantastic, eclectic soundtrack, featuring songs by the Pixies, Green Day, Weezer and The Cure.)
Pink previously co-wrote “Grosse Point Blank” and “High Fidelity,” both good fits for John Cusack’s neurotic, energetic verbal charms. Here, in his first film as a director, he also brings out the best in Long, who shows he can be an engaging leading man following supporting parts in comparatively lame comedies like “Waiting ...” and “Dodgeball.”
As Long’s best friend, though, Hill gets all the best lines, which he delivers in a deadpan way that makes him an unexpected scene-stealer. (Their other co-conspirators include Maria Thayer as Rory, who only applied to Yale and didn’t get in; Columbus Short as Hands, a football player whose injury kept him from securing a college scholarship; and Adam Herschman, in his first movie, as the endearingly weird Glen, who would have fit in nicely among the clerks of “Clerks.”)
None of them will teach you anything you didn’t already know — but at least you’ll have a good time until class is dismissed.