Release Date: August 18th, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steve Pink Actors: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Lewis Black, Adam Herschman, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Ann Cusack, Hannah Marks, Anthony Heald
artleby Gaines (Justin Long) has been rejected from every school to which he’s applied. Desperate to please his disconcerted parents, who believe college is a mandatory part of life, the wayward youth decides to scan a rejection letter and create a phony letter of acceptation from a fictitious entity. Appropriately dubbed the South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.), Bartleby recruits his best friend Sherman Schrader (Jonah Hill) to create an official-looking website for the academy, further escalating the ruse.
Along with a group of misfits, who similarly failed to get into a place of higher education – including Daryl (Columbus Short), Glen (Adam Herschman), and Rory (Maria Thayer) – Gaines orchestrates the renovation of an abandoned insane asylum for use as a façade for his inquisitive parents, who insist on dropping him off at the premises on his first day. Additionally, Sherman’s sketchy Uncle Ben (Lewis Black) is recruited to act as the dean for the institute. But things get out of hand when Bartleby discovers that hundreds of other rejected kids have accidentally been accepted to South Harmon, forcing the makeshift staff to help these fellow outcasts rather than turning them away.
The majority of the cast fits perfectly as idiosyncratic oddballs, with Justin Long turning in a keen performance as the rejected student who struggles to create a sense of belonging for the other “S.H.I.T.heads” dragged into the mayhem. Lewis Black basically plays himself (complete with exaggerated hand motions and continual rants about society), while Jonah Hill snags all the best one-liners in the script. Although he plays the token fat kid, he brings a twist to the stereotype that never dulls through the course of the movie. And Anthony Heald (most memorable as Dr. Chilton from “The Silence of the Lambs”) plays the villainous, neighboring school’s headmaster, who wishes to tear down the South Harmon campus to make room for a luxurious walkway leading to his own esteemed building.
Although the plot is outrageous, with no grounding in reality, the film does an admirable job of making everything seem sensible – at least in the context of a comedic scenario, like those found in “Animal House,” “Old School,” or the “American Pie” films. The interaction between Bartleby and his love interest (Blake Lively) is predictable and clichéd, as are the conflicts with his best friend Sherman; however, the process of reaching those situations contains decent laughs and less commonplace complications. Though not routinely hysterical, the screenplay has its moments, though it seems limited by its PG-13 rating, which stifles the language, the raunchiness, and the motivation for the target audience to purchase a ticket. As the film progresses, it looks as if cursing and nude scenes were shot and then cut; edgier material is skirted around rather than purposefully avoided. It’s not squeaky clean, but riskier content was surely jaggedly excised. In the end, however, there is still fun to be had with this cast and this setup, even if the characters are conventional and the humor is reserved. Plus, a short runtime really helps the pacing.
– Mike Massie