While actor Justin Long has been delivering decent performances in movies like Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball and Galaxy Quest for the past seven years, he’s yet to get that breakout starring role to establish him as an acting force. While Accepted is far short of grand cinematic fare, it shows that Long has the talent to carry a movie, and that we can, perhaps, expect great things from him in the years to come.
Long plays Bartleby, a Ferris Bueller-type high-school student with plenty of ingenuity but a lack of seriousness when it comes to studies. He’s applied to many colleges and has been summarily rejected by all of them. Mommy and Daddy are not amused, telling him he is going to college or else. Bartleby uses his computer to create a false school’s admission letter, shows it to his dad (Mark Derwin), and a potentially catastrophic lie is born.
An admission letter isn’t enough. Dad wants more proof, so Bartleby enlists the help of best friend Sherman (a scene-stealing Jonah Hill) in creating a credible Web site. Dad likes the look of the site, gives his son a big check for the first year’s tuition and tells Bartleby he looks forward to dropping him off. This, of course, means a location for the fictitious school must be found, so Bartleby and some other college rejects find a dilapidated former mental health facility, do some massive cleaning (although they refuse to touch the bathroom) and get ready for the start of the fake semester.
The deception doesn’t stop there because Dad wants to meet the dean, so Bartleby and friends recruit a shoe salesman and former educator (Lewis Black) to stand in. Finally, Bartleby foolishly requests a functional Web site, and Sherman creates just that. Kids have been applying online, getting accepted and sending in their tuition. South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.) is born, and the students are ready to party.
The premise is ridiculous, sort of like those crappy but endearing ‘80s films starring John Cusack (Better off Dead, One Crazy Summer) that propelled forward despite their plots, thanks to fun lead and supporting performances. In fact, Long, in some instances, has a charm similar to Cusack’s. He fires off dialogue in a rambling manner that reminds me of Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. (John’s sister, Ann Cusack, plays Bartleby’s mom, so the movie boasts a Cusack connection.) Long’s youthful exuberance and looks completely hide the fact that he’s 28 years old, a full decade older than the character he is playing.
There are some big laughs, many of them involving Hill’s Sherman and the tribulations he endures as he tries getting into a fraternity at a legitimate college. Hill gets the film’s biggest laugh when a body falls from the ceiling during renovations, and he lets out a lengthy, wussy scream. The film’s first three quarters actually boast a consistent giggle factor, thanks to Long and Hill. Lewis Black gets a couple decent laughs as the insane Dean, and young Hannah Marks scores a couple as Bartleby’s scheming little sister.
When the movie becomes less about the fun, sophomoric humor and more about Bartleby and friends trying to get South Harmon legitimate accreditation, it loses some steam. By the time Bartleby makes his inspirational speech defending his made-up school, at which the students design the classes and teach themselves, the film has worn out its welcome.
Still, Long and friends make it worthwhile in a decent matinee sort of way, and Long’s future looks good. He will co-star in Idiocracy—written and directed by Mike Judge of Office Space—later this year and may be a possible sidekick for Bruce Willis in the next Die Hard movie. He has a comedic gift, and while Accepted is fun enough to earn a mild recommendation, Long is capable of much better.