It takes approximately 15 seconds for Accepted to begin showcasing Mac products, a somewhat foregone conclusion given star Justin Long’s stint as the face of Apple computers’ recent ad campaign. Unfortunately, Steve Pink’s directorial debut isn’t nearly as innovative or cool as Steve Jobs’s line of hi-tech doodads, mismashing virtually every college and high school-related comedy of the past 20 years together like a not-very-clever 10th-grade plagiarist. Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) is a Ferris Bueller photocopy whose scams turn out much better than his report cards, a problem when acceptance letters arrive and he’s left with no higher education destination to call his own. To reverse his parents’ disappointment, Bartleby and his misfit pals create a phony institution called the South Harmon Institute of Technology, replete with a website and campus (a refurbished psychiatric hospital), though their ruse spirals out of control once hundreds of kids show up at their doorstep with tuition checks in hand. In response to this development, Bartleby concocts a slightly more easygoing version of Brown University’s learning environment, the student body coming up with their own curriculum—filled with courses like “Walking Around and Thinking About Stuff” and “Skepticism”—and essentially spending time drinking, swimming, skateboarding, dancing with strippers, and listening to the conspiracy theories of the belligerent shoe salesman-turned-school “dean” (Lewis Black).
As with countless similar teenage trivialities, Pink’s film is funniest during its first half-hour, when concerns about storytelling logic largely take a backseat to one-liners and non-sequiturs, the best of which are, in this case, given to Jonah Hill as Bartleby’s sarcastic, naysaying best friend Sherman. However, once the rusty plot’s wheels begin seriously turning—resulting in conflicts involving a neighboring college’s frat boys and president, and a love interest (Blake Lively) for Bartleby—the fun grinds to a halt, its dilemmas sabotaged by their requirement that we both take its ludicrous Revenge of the Nerds premise seriously (which is impossible), and then swallow wholesale its attempts to reconfigure its tale into an uplifting portrait of individuality (that’d be Bartleby and company) vs. conformity (that’d be traditional education). And, thus, by the time things wrap up in a pitiable courtroom-style accreditation hearing, Accepted has gone from an amusing lark to something more closely resembling South Harmon Institute of Technology’s acronym.