Harmless heat relief but no Animal House, the collegiate comedy Accepted serves best as a showcase for the talented Justin Long, who was memorable in his small role as a sci-fi fan in Galaxy Quest, unrecognizable as a grown-up gay art-gallery receptionist in The Break-Up, and holds the screen well in his first starring feature. That he survived playing Lindsay Lohan's nice-guy love interest in Herbie: Fully Loaded is just extra credit.
Credit, extra or otherwise, eludes the misfit student wannabes in suburban Ohio, where Bartleby Gaines (Long) has been rejected from eight colleges, including his safety school. This precipitates such an undue crisis at home-what, he can't wait a year, or start at a community college?-that B, as his friends call him, comes up with a plan that's so wacky it just might work! He forges an acceptance letter from the made-up South Harmon Institute of Technology; the initials get frequent and much-funnier-than-it-should-be play.
Bartleby's obese friend Schrader (Jonah Hill), who resembles no one so much as the androgynous fatty Pat from the "Saturday Night Live" "It's Pat" sketches, creates a website so that B's father can take a look-see for himself. Armed with a $10,000 tuition check, B and his buddies-Rory (Maria Thayer), who only applied to Yale and wasn't accepted; Hands (Columbus Short), who lost a football scholarship to injury; and surreal slacker Glen (Adam Herschman)-lease and fix up a decrepit former psychiatric hospital in order to show the 'rents at least a lobby and a dorm room. Also a dean, courtesy of Schrader's philosophically ranting Uncle Roy (Lewis Black, doing his shtick).
Yet Schrader's website, as it happens, had a live application link-the better to seem authentic-with automatic acceptance, and soon the "school" is inundated by a couple of hundred rejects for whom South Harmon I.T. represents a last chance. Complicating matters further is Dean Van Horne of prestigious Harmon College, who covets the land, and his student lieutenant, frat-king Hoyt (Travis Van Winkle), who hates B anyway for getting cozy with his girl Monica (Blake Lively).
Implausibilities aside-and there are plenty, despite the meticulous caper quality we're supposed to see-the movie works on the pure energy of its straight-faced silliness. Editor Scott Hill may be the star here, never letting things linger long enough for plot holes to get bothersome, but without making the movie some kinetic music-video; it's a difficult comedic tightrope, and he cuts it well.
But it's Long who holds the show together. While the Matthew Broderick/Ferris Bueller overtones are clearly there, B's improv riffs are so casual and natural-sounding, his targets aren't even sure they've been had. He's like Robin Williams on Ritalin. He's also got a lot of movies upcoming, so we may well be seeing the beginnings of a Long career.