Domesticated Animals

Salt Lake City Weekly | August 10, 2006
All right, Hollywood, enough is enough. The PG-13-ization of our multiplexes is getting out of hand.

It started with “family” movies, curiously enough, as toilet humor and double-entendre began threatening the G rating with extinction. Then horror movies—always dependably R-rated—tamed themselves into spooky-lite packages to make it easier for teens to get in. It was all part of the movie industry’s dollar-smart plan to maximize audience, since R was too restrictive and G considered too wimpy. There, in the great middle, were the biggest fortunes to be had.

But while equilibrium may be an unchanging principle of nature and physics, in a theoretically artistic medium, it mostly sucks. Take the case of Accepted, a new film that wants to find its place in that great, underappreciated sub-genre of American movie-making, the “slobs vs. snobs” comedy. Like its great-grandfather Animal House before it, Accepted is a tale of post-secondary also-rans. After four years of underachievement, high school grad Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) finds himself rejected by every college to which he applies. Unable to confess his failure to his parents, Bartleby opts instead to create a fictional college—the South Hampton Institute of Technology—with the help of a Website constructed by his tech-savvy best friend Sherman (Jonah Hill). The abandoned psychiatric hospital they fix up becomes a home base for Bartleby’s other left-out classmates, including an injured football star (Columbus Short) and a nerd (Maria Thayer) who fell short of her Ivy League ambitions. But South Hampton unexpectedly also attracts other bottom-percentile-dwellers, who believe they have been accepted with the click of a mouse.

It is, of course, a gag that can only head in one thematic direction. The snooty neighboring Ivory Tower institution—with Anthony Heald as the dean continuing his long career of slimy authority figures—will look down on its new makeshift neighbor, and there will be a battle in which unconventional methods will be proven educationally superior to rigidity. Yet despite the schematic framework, Accepted often proves to be surprisingly funny. Long—perhaps best known as the hip Mac in the computer maker’s current ad campaign—makes for an entertaining fast-talking protagonist, and Hill has some terrific moments as the obligatory uptight foil. Lewis Black joins the festivities, essentially playing his fuming, finger-wagging self as the fake institution’s cynical “dean.” Even the college’s name—do the “acronym for South Hampton Institute of Technology” math—becomes a running gag with plenty of goofy variations.

That crude moniker, however, turns out to be something of a tease. As scripted by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Mark Perez, and directed by longtime John Cusack collaborator Steve Pink, Accepted begins as a rebel yell but refuses to go any farther than a PG-13 rating will withstand. Neither the slobs nor the snobs truly go for the gusto in an attempt to knock down their adversaries. The sexy chicks like Bartleby’s frat-boy-dating dream girl (Blake Lively) stay securely in nothing more risqué than bikini tops, and everyone remains curiously chaste. Even the final line of dialogue features a magic f-bomb that is actually bleeped out, because the writers had already used up their PG-13-authorized quota of one. After a while, it begins to feel like a portrayal of the college experience doctored by kids afraid that their parents might see it.

Perhaps it’s not worth getting worked up over some teen comedy that probably wouldn’t have been on the road to greatness no matter how many f-bombs it dropped. But it is a little bit depressing watching such number-crunched, corporate-mandated timidity in a movie that positions itself as anti-establishment. It would be nice to think—especially in the wake of successfully envelope-pushing R-rated comedies like Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin last summer—that there’s still a place for comedy without self-censorship based on the bottom line. Dean Wormer couldn’t bring down the boys of Delta Tau Chi, but studio accountants just might.


**1/2 (two and a half stars)

Starring: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively.

Directed by Steve Pink

Rated PG-13.

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