Bartleby "B" Gaines (Justin Long) is a trouble student. He doesn't do drugs or drink to excess, but he doesn't study and he's always got some kind of scheme going on. Unfortunately for him, colleges don't really care much for schemes, as he gets rejected from literally every college he applies to, including the local state college. So, instead of going to the nearest community college and transferring in to a better school, Bartleby decides his only option is to make up a fake school and try to convince his parents he got accepted. When several of his friends also inexplicably don't get into any colleges at all, they decide to team up. Funny thing is, when they make the fake website to fool their parents, they accidentally make it go live and now every reject and loser in the state is at their door.
Sounds absurd, right? Well, it is. But Accepted isn't without its charms. Justin Long (you know, the "Mac" guy) is extremely affable and a guy you can root for. And the film does feature several talented comedians, including Maria Thayer (Copper Top from Strangers With Candy), Adam Herschman, Mark Derwin, and the marquee name: Lewis Black. The real treat of the cast though is Jonah Hill, also known as the kid from the "We Sell Your Stuff On Ebay Store" in 40 Year Old Virgin. Jonah is a breath of fresh air, coming up with off-the-cuff remarks that are generally better than the written lines.
And that, really, is the main problem with the film. Had it been done in a Christopher Guest-esque style where everyone was given a basic scenario and allowed to improv, the film could have been one of the major underground success stories of the year. The actors are more talented than the writers, and it shows. What's really disappointing is the director, Steve Pink, wrote High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank, two of John Cusack's best films. So where did all of that talent go? Most of the main jokes in the film fall flat. Other than Jonah Hill's character, the only one who is consistently funny is Adam Herschman as the clueless Glen.
The biggest waste of the film is Lewis Black. Black is known for some of the raunchiest and most scathing comedy stand-up in the world. His recent HBO special took digs at just about every major political figure you could think of, but it was hilarious. And it was smart. In this film he's reduced to a blathering alcoholic, and he's not funny. What's the point of hiring Lewis Black if he can't be funny?
Perhaps the film might have worked better if the plot had been tighter. But as it is, it's a rambling selection of college comedy cliches (the evil college dean, the overbearing frat boy) and "group of misfits banding together to overcome the suits and gain respect" cliches. The film is, quite simply, undercooked.
However, nothing in it is especially terrible (except for the fact that actress Diora Baird, who plays a stripper, never takes her clothes off), it's just nowhere near up to the level of its potential. With people like Lewis Black, Jonah Hill, and Steve Pink, you should have a home run. Instead we get a single.
The HD DVD:
Accepted may not seem like the first choice for an HD DVD. There's not much action, or scenic locales, or anything of that nature. Despite that, this is a brand new film and the HD image on it is great. The filmmakers shot the movie simply and plainly, without any filters or stylized looks. The result is a crystal clear image with plenty of detail and sharpness. Colors pop outdoors, and you can make out every little nook and cranny of the Harmon Psychiatric Hospital. While it's not quite up there with the best transfers, it's still damn good.
Accepted isn't an audio-heavy film. Most of it is dialogue and music, with the exception of a motorcycle leaping into a pool or two. Overall, there's nothing wrong with the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix whatsoever. Like the movie itself, it's nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done. Also included are French and Spanish language 5.1 tracks.
Accepted is one of Universal's HD DVDs to feature "U-Control," which is their term for discs with interactive features only possible on HD DVD. In this case, the U-Control features are a picture-in-picture commentary and production photos. The commentary has director Steve Pink along with stars Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Adam Herschman, and Lewis Black. The gang spend the whole time wisecracking, with a few minutes set aside for anecdotes. Most of the humor is of the "abuse your neighbor" kind, especially between Black and Hill. It also contains the classic line, "There is no greater joy in this world than shouting at children," which is just so true. The commentary runs the entire length of the film, and is intercut with short interviews or behind the scenes footage from the shoot. Unfortunately, most of the intercut footage also appears in the other special features, making them redundant. The production photos run on the top of the screen, while the commentary is on the bottom. It's not a bad setup, although the production photos were nothing to shout about, so I would recommend just running the commentary by itself.
After the U-Control, the first special feature is called "Adam's Accepted Chronicles." This is essentially a short mockumentary about Adam Herschman, and how he plays the role of Glen non-stop, the point where everyone on the set hates him. It's funny, but ironically, goes on for too long.
Then we have the making-of featurette, which is again, mostly people joking around, but it has some brilliant ad libs from Mark Derwin, and a whole section on Jonah Hill. Lots of good jokes, including Hill talking about how he was part of a Winger cover band that had to break up after the Janet Jackson Superbowl slip.
After that is one of the oddest special features I've ever seen, the "Guide Yourself Campus Tour," which opens a submenu that lets you select different parts of the college campus. Clicking on each part gives you a minute to two minutes of behind-the-scenes footage shot in that area, whether or not it specifically mentions that area. Bizarre.
You get a selection of deleted scenes, many of which are improvisations by Jonah Hill that are very, very funny. The rest are so/so.
There's also a gag reel, which seems kind of superfluous after all of the previous featurettes that featured nothing but jokes and gags. In fact, the gag reel is notably less funny than any of the making-of documentaries, and every swear word is bleeped out, which is annoying because most of the reel is devoted to Lewis Black swearing profusely.
There are two music videos. One is videos of skaters set to music, the other is a performance by The Ringers, a band that appears in the film. The first video is worthless, the second is better.
Accepted is a combo disc, with a DVD-9 on one side and an HD DVD-30 on the other. On the DVD side only, you can find an extra deleted scene as an easter egg, and if you put the DVD side in a DVD-ROM drive, you can download songs from the film's soundtrack. Neither side contains the film's theatrical trailer.
Accepted is a film about not conforming to mediocrity. It's a shame that the film itself is mediocre. What's even worse is that the film should have been great, based on the talent involved. If the filmmakers had chucked all but the most barebones situations from the script, and made the film improvisational, it probably would have been great. As it is, it's just passable. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.