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(2012) (Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler) (PG-13)

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Comedy: An unpopular teen yearns to go to a big Halloween party, but must first find her mischievous little brother after she loses him trick-or-treating.
Wren (VICTORIA JUSTICE) has had a rough year. Her father passed away, and her mother, Joy (CHELSEA HANDLER), appears to have moved on with a much younger man named Keevin (JOSH PENCE). Meanwhile, her little brother, Albert (JACKSON NICOLL), continues to be a mischievous nuisance even though he has gone mute as a reaction to his father's death.

All Wren and her best friend, April (JANE LEVY), want to do is go to a Halloween party thrown by the cutest guy in school, Aaron Riley (THOMAS McDONNELL), who has given her a personal invitation. But Joy has other ideas. She wants to go party with Keevin at his best friend Brueder's (JAMES PUMPHREY) house. So she places Wren in charge of Albert and forces her to take him trick or treating.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood is so crowded, Wren loses Albert who wanders off and befriends a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy (THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH) who enlists him to help get revenge on his ex-girlfriend. Wren, meanwhile, convinces her nerdy friends Roosevelt (THOMAS MANN) and Peng (OSRIC CHAU) to help her find Albert. Roosevelt has a secret crush on her, which his two lesbian mothers, Barb (KERI KENNEY) and Jackie (ANA GASTEYER), encourage him to act on.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Writing and directing a good teen movie is one of the hardest things in Hollywood to do. Teens can smell out when a film is jive, when the people writing it have no clue how they talk, think, feel, and act. The John Hughes movies of the 1980s - specifically "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club" - became classics for multiple generations because Hughes knew just how to write their teenage protagonists. He respected them, their feelings, their quirks, their fears, doubts, and hopes. They were authentic.

Now this Generation X'er isn't SO tied to his beloved youthful '80s that he can't acknowledge that other great high-school movies have been churned out since. In fact, I would argue that 1999 was the greatest for teen movies in that it gave us Alexander Payne's brilliant "Election," the first and best "American Pie," and the underrated "Can't Hardly Wait." In the years since, everything from the little-seen "Brick" to the well-written, well-cast "Easy A" have scored high on the Hughes Scale.

Then, there is a movie like "Fun Size," produced by the good folks at Nickelodeon who try to craft a safe movie that would play on their TV cable network at 9 o'clock at night featuring one of their biggest stars, Victoria Justice, while still trying to appeal to those teens sneaking into R-rated showings of such lurid and profane flicks as "Project X" and "Superbad." It tries to have it both ways, and it comes off as some kind of odd pretender of a flick. You never really buy it, despite some interesting casting here and there, a terrific soundtrack, and good production values.

Justice of "Victorious" fame stars as Wren, a not-quite-popular high school senior who has caught the eye of the cutest, most popular boy in school (Thomas McDonell). His name is Aaron Riley and he is right out of the Zac Efron School of Dreamy Pretty Boys that I wasn't able to connect with when I was 16 and certainly can't connect with now that I'm well, not 16. Nevertheless, he drives a cool car and all the girls like him. He invites Wren to be his date at his annual Halloween bash.

One problem. Wren's recently widowed mother, Joy (Chelsea Handler), has gone off to party with her much younger boyfriend and left Wren in charge of her jerky, 6-year-old brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll). She is tasked with taking him trick or treating, even as her best friend April plots and schemes to get them to Aaron's party where they'll finally be popular. Of course, they end up losing Albert amidst the sea of trick-or-treaters. What follows is a night where the two girls enlist the aid of two brainiacs (Thomas Mann and Osric Chau), one of whom drives a car and has a crush on Wren, to look for the kid. Albert, meanwhile, gets in a series of misadventures on his own.

The film is written by Max Werner, a former "Colbert Report" staff writer who might be a bit too smart for this kind of flick. His script has the usual menagerie of teen characters looking to party and gain popularity. But he tries to shoehorn in references to everyone from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to "60 Minutes" and PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose so he doesn't embarrass himself if any of his cronies see the film. Other characters are underwritten to the point where director Josh Schwartz turns them over to veteran sketch comedy performers such as Ana Gasteyer and Abby Elliott of "Saturday Night Live," Keri Kenney of "Reno 911," and Thomas Middleditch of "CollegeHumor Originals." Most of the time, these talented performers are set adrift.

And I have to say, the Albert character is one of the strangest movie kids I've seen in quite some time. The boy is shown in his underwear way too much. He is mute by choice. You're supposed to like him, I guess. But he is constantly running off and getting lost. Characters inexplicably take him in and sweep him up in some very adult misadventures rather than drop him off at the nearest police station, firehouse, or convent. And he is mocked on several occasions for his weight.

That said, the film is not as bad as you would think. Justice and Mann are especially appealing, and a running subplot involving Wren and Albert being still affected by their dad's death pays off in a nicely poignant ending. Unfortunately, there is just too much confusion leading up to those closing moments. It's not a film parents should allow their tweens and young kids to see if they are big "Victorious" fans on account of the language, sexual content, and drinking. And older teens who have seen the aforementioned "Superbad" or "Project X" or any of the truly great teen films also listed above are going to scoff throughout that the characters don't go far enough on their collective night of debauchery. I rate the film no better than a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed October 20, 2012 / Posted October 26, 2012

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