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Snakes a pleasant (and scary) surprise

By Lady Liberty
web posted August 21, 2006

Accepted

** out of ****

AcceptedThere are times when I'm frankly in the mood to see a movie that requires no effort whatsoever on my part. The previews led me to believe that Accepted might be just such a film, and I'm pleased to say that the previews had it exactly right. For the price of a ticket and absolutely nothing else, I spent an hour and a half in a state of bemused amusement.

Accepted is just what Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) and his buddies aren't having a lot of luck getting. Bartleby — or B, as his friends call him — has applied to seven colleges. As he finishes his senior year, he receives his seventh rejection.

Meanwhile, his friend Hands (Columbus Short) has seen his football scholarship aspirations fall through; his friend Rory (Maria Thayer) fails to gain acceptance at Yale, the only school to which she's applied; and his friend Glen (Adam Herschman) has frankly not even tried to apply given his less than impressive SAT scores. B's best friend, Sherman Schrader (Jonah Hill) is the only exception among the group. Along with B's dream girl, Monica (Blake Lively) and her jock boyfriend, he'll be going to Harmon University in the fall.

B has actually convinced himself that he's okay with not going to college. His parents, however, are less than sanguine about it. Jack Gaines (Mark Derwin) seems to think his son will never amount to anything if he doesn't go to college, and his mother, Diane (Ann Cusack) works her son's guilt about his failure. His younger sister, Lizzie (Hannah Marks) — who will doubtless have no problem at all getting into the school of her choice — is actually getting a good deal of pleasure out of her brother's discomfort. But B himself can only take it for so long.

In desperation, B hatches a plot to create a fake acceptance for himself. With the aid of Photoshop and a good scanner, B creates letterhead for the fictitious South Harmon Institute of Technology. He engages Sherman to create a web site for the school. With help from Hands, Rory, and Glen, he tracks down a vacant building he can clean up and use to fool his parents. But what he doesn't realize is that, in order to do good enough work that his parents will believe his story, he also creates other believers who discover the school as they surf the Internet.

The next thing he knows, B is flooded with students who all claim they've been accepted at the school with the unfortunate acronym. Before Bartleby can 'fess up, he's in well over his head and can do little else but go with the flow. But though his parents are proud, his little sister is still incredulous; worse, the Dean of Harmon University himself (Dean Van Horne, played by Anthony Heald) is determined to eliminate his new competition, and he'll stop at nothing to get rid of S.H.I.T.

Justin Long is, at the moment, perhaps best known as the laid back Macintosh computer guy on the TV commercials currently running almost everywhere. (The fact that every computer that appears in the movie is an Apple is doubtless a case of product placement, but it also seems like a mildly amusing inside joke.) In Accepted, despite B's flair for the mischievious, Long's nice guy persona fits like a glove. Jonah Hill, Adam Herschman, Columbus Short, and Maria Thayer are all fine; Lewis Black as the damaged Uncle Ben-turned-S.H.I.T. Dean, is a hoot. Other supporting cast members also manage to do pretty much what needs to be done (with the notable exception of Blake Lively, who's pretty enough but who could really use some more acting lessons).

Accepted is less about the cast, of course, than it is about the entirely implausible plot. Kids faking letterhead and web sites? Okay, sure. But the entire campus set-up? Keeping control (well, mostly anyway) of a good sized student body? Eluding the authorities? Nope, no way, not a chance. And yet, when you're watching Accepted, you don't really care that it's not realistic. It's amusing, and that's why you're there in the first place, isn't it?

When I saw Accepted, there was a good-sized crowd in attendance, and I'm betting that the average age was about 17. As a group, the audience laughed quite a bit, and left the theatre spouting lines from the film (not the least of which was the one already made famous in the trailer when a costumed Sherman gestures to passers-by, "Ask me about my wiener!"). Although I was a little bit embarrassed to be laughing myself, I did laugh, and I laughed more than once.

If you're looking for redeeming social values, don't bother with Accepted. If you want to think deep thoughts afterward, Accepted isn't for you. But if you considered American Pie to be high humor, you might want to give Accepted a try. Though not as funny as American Pie, it gives a credible effort along the same lines, and I left the showing with a smile on my face. You could do a heck of a lot worse than that!

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Accepted is rated PG-13 for "language, sexual material, and drug content." Little kids aren't going to get the jokes (whether they're appropriate or not for little ones, and they're not). Older kids, say those of about 12 and up, though, are going to find Accepted plenty entertaining. If you've still got something of that senior-year-student still living in you, you probably will, too.

Snakes on a Plane

*** out of ****

Snakes on a PlaneOkay, despite having what may be the cheesiest title ever for a major motion picture, the advance chatter — particularly on the Internet — about Snakes on a Plane was considerable. Did all that talk lend credibility to the film? Or was it merely the hallmark a B movie in search of cheap publicity? When the studio refused preview showings for reviewers, most leaned toward the latter.

Cheesy or not, there was no way I was missing this movie. The only thing that comes close to waxing poetic about a movie's sheer brilliance is being able to slam a bad movie, and to slam it hard. I couldn't wait to buy my ticket. And after the movie was over, I couldn't wait to call a friend whose teenagers were dying to see the movie themselves. The first words out of my mouth when I made the call? "Oh, my god, Snakes on a Plane is awesome!"

In Snakes on a Plane, we know what we're going to see later. But first, we're treated to some pretty surfing scenes and the antics of man enjoying a wild ride on a dirt bike. Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) is something of an extreme sports fan, and he's clearly having a good day as he stops his bike for a quick drink. But before he can really enjoy the scenery, his pleasant day is interrupted in a most unpleasant way.

Terrified after having witnessed a murder, Sean holes up in his apartment. He's not safe there, though, as the bad guys make plans to eliminate him. Fortunately, FBI Agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) is also on the case. He gets Jones safely away, and then manages to talk him into testifying against suspected gangster Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). Feeling he has no real choice in the matter — at least not if he wants to live — Jones gets on a plane to Los Angeles with Agent Flynn.

But Kim and his henchmen haven't given up. They're determined to do whatever it takes to prevent Jones from testifying, and "whatever it takes" includes secreting poisonous snakes aboard the LA-bound plane. Along with Smith and Jones, the other at-risk passengers represent an ecclectic cross section of tourists and businessmen. From famed rapper Three G's (Flex Alexander) and his bodyguards (Kenan Thompson and Keith Dallas) to a pair of children on their first unchaperoned flight (Casey Dubois and Daniel Hogarth); from an arrogant businessman (Gerard Plunkett) to a socialite (Rachel Blanchard); and from a young mother (Elsa Pataky) to a kickboxing tournament competitor (Terry Chen), all will be called upon to deal with the unimaginable.

Smith, meanwhile, has to rely on the help of an FBI agent on the ground (Bobby Cannavale) as well as the flight attendants in the air (Julianna Marguiles, Lin Shaye, Bruce James, and Sunny Mabry) to mount any kind of defense against the horror on board Pacific Flight 121. But as as Smith points out to Agent Harris, this is one scenario nobody has ever even remotely considered!

Samuel L. Jackson is his usual take-charge self, but there's a nice undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek here. Julianna Marguiles is a very good actress who often somehow chooses unfortunate films. Though her decision to star in this movie actually dovetails with previous choices, her performance and the way the film is handled combine to elevate both. Other supporting cast members, including Nathan Phillips as the terrified federal witness, are very, very good. In fact, there's not a bad performance in this movie, which makes it far from typical B-movie fare. That a few of the cast members ham it up is understandable, but it's still subtle enough that it contributes well to the whole.

Yes, I suppose you'd have to call Snakes on a Plane a B-movie. The plot is largely unbelievable, and the characters sometimes a little stereotypical (though there are some real surprises, so control your urge to jump to obvious conclusions). And yet it all works.

The snakes are amazing if somewhat edited for effect (the snakes invariably open up so we can hear them hiss and see their fangs before they attack, and real snakes don't waste their time on that kind of posturing). The snake attacks and frequent deaths are just as gruesome as any horror movie afficianado might hope; the startle moments are frequent and unexpected so much of the time that they work just fine, thank you. In fact, I didn't make it too long after the snakes were released that I literally couldn't keep my feet on the floor in the theatre. I could all but feel the snakes twining about my ankles. Now that's some impressive onscreen tension!

The edits were nice and crisp, and if the script sometimes a little predictable, well, the rest made up for that and then some. There are, believe it or not, moments of real humor along with the horror and melodrama. And despite knowing what's coming prior to the advent of the snakes, the movie is still tightly tense (in fact, I suspect that knowing the snakes are coming actually adds to the suspense in ways the filmmaker's may not necessarily have planned in advance).

Snakes on a Plane isn't like to win anybody an Oscar for anything. But you know what? I don't go to the movies just for Oscar performances. I go to have a good time. And the truth is that, when I saw Snakes on a Plane, I had a really, really good time. 24 hours later, I stand by my first comment: Oh, my god, Snakes on a Plane is awesome!

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Snakes on a Plane is rated R for " language, scenes of sexuality and drug use, and intense sequences of terror and violence." I don't believe that Snakes on a Plane is remotely suited for children. The language alone precludes that, never mind the graphic violence. (Scuttlebutt says that the movie was originally to be of a more PG variety, but that more graphic scenes were deliberately added after some complained that watering it down simply wouldn't let the movie be what it should be. If that's the case, I frankly agree with the moviemakers' decision to amp things back up to an R rating.) But from teenagers on up, audiences will be suitably awed by all of the creepy-crawlies, and thrilled and chilled for most of the duration of the flight.

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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