Here's the pitch for Accepted: Animal House meets Ferris Bueller. Justin Long plays Bartleby Gaines, a too-clever-for-his-own-good loser who titled his college essay "I Don't Have a Clue" and collects seven rejection letters ("I'm creating dramatic tension," he says). To snow his disappointed parents, Bartleby invents the South Harmon Institute of Technology (go on, spell it out) and accepts himself.
A series of misunderstandings lead Bartleby and his similarly rejected friends to lease a deserted psychiatric hospital, fix it up (whoops—do those dorm beds still have restraints?), and host a campusful of students. Bartleby's demographically approved posse includes overweight nerd Sherman (Jonah Hill), black athlete Hands (Columbus Short), overconfident smartie Rory (Maria Thayer), and dimwitted but possibly gifted loser Glen (Adam Herschman). Rounding out the crew is Sherman's caustic, out-of-work Uncle Ben (Lewis Black), who agrees to plays dean to visting parents.
Chaos begins to take on a modicum of order as the students invent their own curriculum: "Advanced Napping," "Walking Down the Road Thinking About Stuff," "Advanced Skepticism 401" and so on. But when Harmon College gets wind that South Harmon is trading on the Harmon College name—and on a coveted piece of real estate, no less—Bartleby makes nemeses of a real dean (Anthony Heald) and a stuffy Aryan frat-boy (Travis Van Winkle). Will South Harmon get accredited in time?
It's an unruly fantasy that fumbles a promising premise. A school that's like the unleashed id of the old U.C. Santa Cruz model (no grades, no tests, free to be you and me), South Harmon also becomes a logistical nightmare to which the script pays no more than lip service. In the process, Accepted depicts college as dull, insensible, confusing, dehumanizing while talking a good game about self-motivated learning. Fair enough, but the anarchic South Harmon alternative leans heavily toward irresponsible partying and away from acquisition of knowledge (the quad's half-pipe notwithstanding).
Fillips of stupid slapstick and quickly repetitive variations on the same shit joke fill space between some witty one-liners (Bartleby points out the many greats who never graduated from college: "Einstein...Pocahontas...Suzanne Somers..."). A wigged-out kid with A.D.D. (Robin Taylor) emblematizes the film's cheap shots at political correctness, but at least Taylor isn't bland like Bartleby's crew.
In the end, Accepted isn't much worse than Animal House, but lacks the galvanizing central presence of a comic force like John Belushi. Director Steve Pink—the Cusack buddy who co-wrote Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity—adds little to an underachieving screenplay by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Mark Perez. Though he's likeable and belatedly earns his paycheck with a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style speech, Long doesn't yet have the chops to anchor an entire picture (and his rendition of "Blitzkrieg Bop" is lower-your-head embarrassing). Despite a smattering of amusing gags, many courtesy of Black, Accepted is basically cable fodder.