Improbably named high school senior Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) has a problem. Despite his business acumen (he has a bustling fake ID trade) and obvious animal cunning, he failed to get into college. His parents – quite understandably – are none too pleased. “The first rule of society,” according to his father, “Is that you go to college” (perhaps the second rule should be, “Don’t name your kid ‘Bartleby,’” but that’s neither here nor there). And so, in a fit of short-sighted desperation, he enlists his nerdy best friend Sherman (Jonah Hill) to mock up a web page, whips up bogus letterhead for a bogus school (the “South Harmon Institute of Technology,” there’s an acronymic joke that never gets old), and mails himself an acceptance letter. Problem solved, right?
Not exactly. For starters, his parents would naturally like to meet the dean and check out the facilities, having cut a $10,000 check for tuition after all. To that end, Bartleby and some similarly non-college bound friends (the football player with a career-ending knee injury, the idiot girl who didn’t apply anywhere but Yale) take the money, lease an old psychiatric hospital to act as a façade, and hire Sherman’s somewhat unhinged uncle Ben (Lewis Black) to masquerade as the dean. Problem solved, right?
Well, no, because Sherman (who actually got into Harmon, a local university) inadvertently constructed a functioning fake web site, meaning hundreds of misfits who would’ve otherwise found themselves bagging groceries or performing in scat porn show up to attend school. Instead of just taking their tuition checks and splitting for Buenos Aires, Bartleby opts to give his reprobate students something akin to an open curriculum. His utopian vision of academia, while laughably naïve, allows these assorted oddballs to come into their own. It also gives Black the chance to vent his spleen about the government, and affords us the chance to ogle some bikini-clad coeds.
It would be Paradise indeed, if not for the nefarious designs of stodgy Dean
Bitterman Van Horn (perennial a*****e Anthony Heald), who wants to raze their building to create an entrance plaza for neighboring Harmon U. Can Bartleby beat the odds, foiling the Evil Dean and making S.H.I.T. a viable institute of learning?
There’s absolutely nothing original about “Accepted,” the directorial debut of longtime John Cusack collaborator Steve Pink. It’s merely the latest entry (and a regrettably PG-13 rated one at that) in the “slobs vs. snobs” comedy subgenre that dates back to the far superior “Animal House.” Hell, “Accepted” even features a tribunal scene that apes the one in which the Deltas face off against the Alpha Betas…or was that Balls and Shaft? Whatever. Long continues fulfilling his generational duties as the nice-guy alternative to Ryan Reynolds (though he sports an alarming number of crows’ feet for someone allegedly just out of high school), Lewis Black’s performance will make you laugh – provided you’re the kind of person who laughs at Lewis Black, and Hill plays an surprisingly intelligent and sympathetic Sheldon. “Accepted” ends up providing an unexpectedly high number of laughs. How much you join in will depend on how big a fan you are of the collegiate comedy formula, how many times you’ve seen “Animal House” and “Caddyshack,” and how much you hate Long in those smarmy Mac commercials.