I suppose there is some irony to be found in the fact that the ribald teen comedy 'Accepted' is supposed to be about not conforming to mediocrity, and yet the movie itself was judged by most critics and audiences to be mediocre.
Bartleby "B." Gaines (Justin Long) is your average high school underachiever -- that is, until he finds out that he hasn't been accepted into any of the colleges he applied to. Enlisting the help of a motley crew of other "rejects," Bartleby creates his own fake college, complete with a website that promises open admission to all. Soon, any student who can afford the $10,000 annual tuition is enrolled, and the doors of the "South Harmon Institute of Technology" are open for business. But even as Bartleby's scam suddenly proves surprisingly legit, the party can't last forever, especially after he falls for the beautiful Monica (Blake Lively), whose bland blonde boyfriend Dwayne (Kellan Lutz) doesn't take to kindly to a rival suitor. Will Dwayne's investigation of the mysterious South Harmon bring down Bartleby's house of cards?
Of course, the film's premise is ludicrous. But while most critics dismissed the film whole hog, I found it both funny and genuinely likeable, in the grand tradition of slobs-against-the-snobs classics like 'Animal House' and 'Caddyshack.' What's most impressive is how director Steve Pink ('High Fidelity,' 'Grosse Point Blank') and screenwriters Adam Cooper and Bill Collage manage to put such a nice spin on typical teen archetypes. From Bartleby's parents (who are neither stupid nor irrelevant, as they usually are in these types of films) to the familiar Monica character (which is usually so thankless), it is a fine ear for quirkiness that almost consistently elevates 'Accepted.' Take this exchange between Bartleby and his blackmailing kid sister Lizzie (Hannah Marks), who, instead of being just another typical precocious tween is instead turned into a pint-sized Alex P. Keaton:
Bartleby: What do you want?
Lizzie: A fake ID.
Bartleby: You're crazy! I'm not going to let you drink!
Lizzie: It's so I can vote, dumb ass!
I have to say that I'm surprised by the venom directed at this movie (the flick currently enjoys only a meager 35 percent "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes). Much of the ire appears to stem from the fact that the movie features comedy stars Jonah Hill and Lewis Black in supporting roles, and that fans and critics expected more cutting edge material. But the fact that the film wasn't hard-edged (instead, it's simply sweet) is what I liked about it. Perhaps that's the beauty of entering a film like this without expectations of any kind. With a snappy pace, a fun concept, and eager young performers (especially the always-affable Long), 'Accepted' has quickly earned a place in the guilty-pleasure rotation in my HD DVD player.
'Accepted' would not immediately seem like the type of movie tailor-made for high-definition -- and sure enough, it isn't. But overal it's not a bad-looking movie, enlivened by perky cinematography and plenty of attractive young actors (some of whom are even willing to strip down to barely nothing at all).
Universal offers up a 1080p/VC-1 transfer framed at the movie's original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The plusses are a spotless source, and a very bright visual style. The majority of the film is shot in daylight exteriors, and it almost always looks like a sunny afternoon. Colors are nicely saturated, with vivid primary hues and warm orange fleshtones. Detail still holds up pretty well, and the transfer is sharp as a tack. Only contrast is a bit too hot -- it tends to white-out colors a bit too much, and flattens depth. Where things fall apart, however, is in dark and nighttime scenes, where the low-end of the grayscale is totally dulled, leaving the image looking little better than standard-def. Colors are also sub-par in these sequences. Luckily, these scenes comprise only a few minutes of the entire movie so it's not a fatal flaw.
Like the video, the soundtrack for 'Accepted' is not exactly high-def demo material. In fact, this may be the most front-heavy mix I've yet heard on an HD DVD new release. There is so little going on here, it may as well just be stereo.
Technically, though, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix (encoded at 1.5mbps) is perfectly fine. It sounds clean and fresh, with pitch-perfect dialogue, wide dynamic range, and respectable low bass -- just don't expect any envelopment. In fact, the only discrete effect I really noticed was when a motorcycle comes flying over a fence into a pool. Even the numerous rock/pop tunes that litter the soundtrack are all placed across the front three channels, with only a hint of bleed to the rears. Still, I'm giving it a three-and-a-half star rating simply because it serves its purpose and suits the material well... even if it's unmemorable.
As has become standard on Universal HD DVD releases, the studio has once again ported over all of the extras from the standard-def DVD release. For a film that made about $12.50 at the box office, the studio sure put together a hefty supplemental package for 'Accepted.' Granted, the vast majority of this stuff is pure jokey nonsense, and not a single person seems to take any of it seriously, but maybe that is a good thing.
First up is a screen-specific audio commentary with director Steve Pink and stars Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Adam Herschman, and Lewis Black. Note that this track is just an audio-only version of the full video commentary that is also included on the disc as part of its HD DVD-exclusive "U-Control" features (see below). So, unless you have an aversion to picture-in-picture boxes, you could just as easily skip this and watch the video version. In any case, this track is almost all laughs. I assume some of this was sarcasm, but if you listen to this crew, the set was all about actors wisecracking, belittling each other and playing gags on eachother. Black and Hill in particular play off each other like they are kings of improvisation. Depending on your sense of humor, you'll either find this one very funny, or just plain tiresome.
Two featurettes and a grouped quintet of vignettes are next, and all continue the frivolity. "Reject Rejection: The Making of 'Accepted'" runs 10 minutes and is more cast and crew joking around. Still, again it's funny stuff, especially Mark Derwin doing some terrific off-handed gags, and a considerable section devoted to Hill. "Adam's 'Accepted' Chronicles" is really just an 11-minute mockumentary of how Herschman stayed in character almost the whole shoot, channeling the spirit of Glen much to the annoyance of his castmates. Finally, the standard-def "Guide Yourself Campus Tour" has been deconstructed here -- instead of an interactive map leading you to five different short (1- to 2-minute) vignettes of on-set footage, you can simply select them all off of a pull-down list right from the disc's supplements submenu.
A 13-minute collection of Deleted Scenes offers more scattershot humor. Most are so-so at best, although here again, Hill steals the show, with one scene in particular featuring a considerable amount of improv that has a nice little payoff. There is also an 8-minute Gag Reel, but given the lack of seriousness in the rest of the extras, it kind of feels besides the point.
Lastly, we have two Music Videos, although only "Keepin' Your Head Up" by The Ringers (who are seen in the film) seems like a real video. Their "Hangin' on the Half Pipe" is just a montage of skater footage from the movie, and the song is crap. Skip it.
Note that the film's Theatrical Trailer is not included on either side of this HD DVD/DVD combo release.
'Accepted' is a fun movie -- nothing more, nothing less. And while it's definitely not a new classic on the level of films like 'Revenge of the Nerds' and 'Animal House,' it's far better than most other films of its ilk. Universal has put together a surprisingly packed HD DVD release for this one -- the transfer and soundtrack serve the material just fine, and there is a wealth of bonus content, including a couple of U-Control exclusives. This one is well worth a look for fans of dumb, silly and vulgar collegiate comedies.