Victoria Justice, from left, Chelsea Handler and Thomas Mann star in "Fun… (Jaimie Trueblood, MCT )
Halloween usually brings horror movies, but the actual holiday experience for most people has more to do with costumes and candy than serial killers and demons. With that in mind, the new film "Fun Size" looks to play the part of the non-horror Halloween movie. Transiently entertaining, with intermittent sparks, it'll do until something better comes along.
The film marks the feature directing debut of Josh Schwartz, the force behind such of-their-moment teen TV as "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl." As any given episode of those shows could seem overstuffed with a season's worth of plot, it makes sense Schwartz's first film would be a youthful one-big-night adventure.
It's much less debauched than the recent "Project X," but the film's niceness might be its undoing — the storytelling lacks sharpness and focus, despite a screenplay credited to Max Werner, a writer on "The Colbert Report."
Set in Cleveland, the story follows high schooler Wren (Victoria Justice) as she nervously plans for college while still grappling with the emotional aftermath of her father's death. Her mother (Chelsea Handler) saddles Wren with looking after her oddball younger brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) on Halloween night.
This puts a crimp in the plan her friend April (Jane Levy) had for them to go to an exclusive cool-kids party. When Albert goes missing while trick-or-treating, their girls' night out takes a left turn.
"Fun Size" is at its least convincing when it tries for real emotions. In many ways the true heart of the film is the character of the young and almost entirely silent Albert, whose off-kilter sweetness captures the tone the rest of the film seems to be aiming for.
Schwartz, along with cinematographer Yaron Orbach, works hard not to shoot the film in the flat, TV-influenced way that might best be described as Contemporary Studio Competence, yet the camera often moves in ways that feel unmotivated and unnecessary.
Schwartz's visual choices never coalesce into anything that might resemble a style or vision.
Still, "Fun Size" lives up to the candy correlation of its title. It's pleasurable enough in the moment, but the buzz fades quickly.