The dog days of August were made for good-natured cinematic swill, and ``Accepted," a rude, crude, engagingly slap-happy campus comedy was made for August. That applies whether you catch it in theaters this weekend or stumble across it in December on pay-cable. Low of brow and pure of heart, the movie plays like ``Animal House" extra-lite, and as such it's decent indecent fun.
It helps -- a lot -- that Justin Long is in the lead as perennially underachieving college wannabe Bartleby ``B . " Gaines. Long has played sweet-faced doofi in movies such as ``Dodgeball," ``The Break-Up," and ``Waiting . . ." (in which he almost made that movie's nasty jokes palatable), but you probably know him as the smug Mac guy in those Mac vs . PC ads. Don't hold that against him; in ``Accepted," Long comes across as David Schwimmer with a spine and a plan.
Bartleby is such a screw-up that he hasn't been accepted at any of the eight colleges to which he has applied. He's also so resourceful that he cooks up a way to keep his tightly wound father (Mark Derwin) from hitting the roof; if most of his classmates are attending the snooty Harmon University nearby, he'll invent a college that will accept him. With some brainstorming and Web wizardry, the South Harmon Institute of Technology is born. If you haven't noticed what the school's acronym spells out, ``Accepted" is happy to remind you. Over and over.
That's the one labored gag in a comedy that successfully walks the thin line between stoopid and stupid. The ruse gets out of control: Dad wants to visit the campus, so B. finds an abandoned mental hospital and turns it into a viable (more or less) college with the help of his equally unmatriculated friends, injured jock Hands (Columbus Short), weirdo Glen (Adam Herschman), and Ivy League reject Rory (Maria Thayer). They need a dean, so failed college professor and borderline lunatic Uncle Ben (comedian Lewis Black) is commandeered.
Then the rest of the students arrive -- all 500 of them. It turns out the South Harmon website has kicked out acceptance letters like spam, and B. is now the administrator of a school that doesn't exist. His student body is a police line up of surfers, ex-strippers, ADD basket cases, and thugs. The curriculum? Whatever you want it to be, man. There are classes in ``Slacking 101," ``Men: The Weaker Sex," and ``The Decline and Fall of Chevy Chase" (ouch). It's like the hippie educational ideal of the '60s channel ed through ``Porky's."
A movie like this has to have WASPy meanies, and over at Harmon University there's the vile Dean Van Horn (Anthony Heald) and his fratboy minion Hoyt Ambrose (Travis Van Winkle), respectively standing in for Dean Wormer and Greg Marmalard of ``Animal House." B.'s best friend, a hopeless social freak named Sherman (Jonah Hill), takes on Stephen Furst's old ``Flounder" role.
Meanwhile, Hoyt's girlfriend, the beauteous Monica (Blake Lively), is enough of a free spirit that she's quickly drawn across town to South Harmon and to B., and there's never any doubt as to where the movie in general is heading: an appearance before the college accreditation committee and the chance for Bartleby to say things like ``It's not just about us anymore!"
If the jokes are sloppy and the characters generic, director Steve Pink keeps the genial vibe going for longer than he has any right to. (Pink wrote ``High Fidelity" and ``Grosse Point Blank" and effectively steps down a few rungs here so he can step up into the director's chair.) ``Accepted" trots out a few timid notions about breaking open the stifling university model, but rebellion is the last thing on anyone's mind. Like all Hollywood youth comedies about nonconformity, it's conformist at heart; unlike most of the others, it puts a crass smile on your face while playing it safe.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.