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The indulgent `Accepted' earns only failing grades

August 18, 2006|Stephen Williams | Newsday

It's every high schooler's dream: going to a college with courses like Preparing the Perfect Slurpee, Motorcycles in the Swimming Pool, Slacking 101, 201, 301, 401. Majoring in tank tops or heavy metal.

Teachers? Forget it. The sophomores teach the freshmen, or maybe the other way round. Better yet, no one teaches anyone. As for Poe, Newton, Einstein, O'Neill ... well, we can wee on them from a high place. Even David Mamet's not welcome.

Of course, these dreams, or daydreams, often melt in the soft light of a breaking dawn. Most often maturation sets in, brains accommodate new ideas and then stretch, and occasionally teachers transform from bad guys to good guys.

In "Accepted," they're still the bad guys. That makes this molecule of a movie the slightest bit insidious, seditious even, if you presume that even one teenager who sees it -- and many will -- will take it seriously.

The idea is that bucking the system is OK if you create a new system: Take the "road less traveled." The scam is initiated by one Bartleby "B" Gaines, played with great relish by Justin Long, a high school senior who's been rejected for admission to eight universities. He's feeling pressure from his peers and his simpleton parents. In a flash of brilliance, with some help from best pal Schrader (Jonah Hill), a few other misfits and the Internet, he cooks up a college: South Harmon Institute of Technology. The acronym becomes a running -- and very tiresome -- gag.

To create a bricks-and-mortar ruse that'll fool the folks, the gang takes over a dumpy building, and one day hundreds of kids show up with tuition checks. Instead of hiring a faculty -- other than the psychotic Uncle Ben (Lewis Black), who poses as the dean -- Bartleby uses the money to buy a disco ball for his dorm room that lights when he claps his hands.

So college life at South Harmon is like a day, or a year, at the mall, and when the stuffy, all-business dean of the real Harmon University (Anthony Heald) gets wind of the scam ... well, you can see what's coming -- Adult Uses Power to Scuttle Kids' Dreams.

What's most troubling about "Accepted" isn't the filmmakers' put-on authority complex or their naive notion that 99% of their audience won't see right though this mess. Let's assume that a couple of them went to college and studied filmmaking.

More disconcerting is the idea put forward that self-indulgence is a substitute for structured education, or, more to the point, that it's a substitute for life. We know that this is a silly bit of a mid-August movie with a feel-good attitude -- the final scene, in fact, is magnificently funny. But in the name of comedy or, worse, "art," "Accepted" attempts to fool a young audience that might very well be too smart to be fooled.



MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, sexual material and drug content

A Universal Pictures release. Director Steve Pink. Screenplay Adam Cooper & Bill Collage, Mark Perez. Story by Perez, Pink. Producers Tom Shadyac, Michael Bostick. Director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti. Editor Scott Hill. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

In general release.

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