Halloween "tween" farce "Fun Size" is a singularly soul-crushing experience, like searching for a last-minute costume at the dollar store and finding only Paula Deen, John Carter and Vladimir Putin. (For what's it worth, I'd sigh, and choose Paula.)
Seemingly pitched toward the pre-driver's permit crowd, it's a mean-spirited, ugly work that will appeal to only the least-discriminating viewers. Its commercials pitch "Fun Size" as a wacky, "Adventures in Babysitting"-meets-"Project X"-style romp, but this is instead a cinematic endurance test, a rank ordeal that makes one feel uncomfortably sticky all over, like wearing a sport coat made of Sugar Daddies.
I find it hard to believe we'll see a worse studio release in 2012, especially one directed at young folk, many of whom adore its star, Victoria Justice. I'm offended as a parent – but more so as a filmgoer.
It is Halloween in Cleveland, and young Wren (Justice, the popular star of Nickelodeon's "Victorious") and her sour best friend April (a severely unlikable Jane Levy) get invited by cool, sensitive hunk Aaron Riley (actor's name unnecessary) to the cool-kid Halloween party.
It's a score, since, cough, Wren is so dorky, cough … Yes, we're meant to buy the lovely Justice as a "nerd." It's that kind of movie.
But mom (saddled with the film's laziest side story, talk show host Chelsea Handler still draws some laughs) has plans, and Wren is forced to spend the evening taking her brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) trick-or-treating.
Young Albert, we're told, has not said a word since the death of his father. We see him mocked for being overweight, locked in a room by a raging adult and mistreated by almost every character on screen, save convenience store clerk Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch).
That's not funny. It's sad, and mean, and made me wish for an on-screen appearance by Fictional Child Protective Services.
During the wild night, Wren loses Albert, and with the help of the obviously smitten Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) must find the Spider-Man costumed little boy, before mom finds out.
Hijinks ensue, and audience spirits plummet. Perhaps only its star, Justice, fares well. She is, quite simply, adorable, and this will be a blip on her resume.
Oddly, its director, Josh Schwartz, has real talent. The man behind TV's "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl," Schwartz is no dummy. Here, Schwartz's direction is wrong-headed on every level, making "Fun" a comedy with few laughs, woeful plot turns, and way-too-adult innuendo, although I imagine some viewers will be semi-satisfied.
Admittedly, several of its stars – Justice, Handler, Middleditch – are likable enough that even here, amid the trash, they're not altogether unwatchable. But I don't think it's unseemly to say the actors, and the kids who have paid to see them, deserve something better.
And they can find that by instead seeing "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," a film that nails the feelings of wistful optimism, seemingly insurmountable melancholia and suburban ennui that make adolescence so wonderfully, horribly complex. It's the finest coming-of-age film in some time.
"Fun Size" is aiming much, much lower, obviously, but it's not wrong to compare the two. Released within weeks of each other, both are pitched toward teens, tell stories about our innate urge to fit in, and share a PG-13 rating.
So two ticket-window options: "Perks" or "Fun." One of these is a moving ode to the exhilarating rush of new friendships, overcoming past horrors and becoming emboldened by the sounds of the Smiths, Sonic Youth and David Bowie. Its ?cast even includes Hermione Granger.
The other features a giant chicken humping a car, adults repeatedly calling a little boy "fat," jocks so jocky that the Jocks Union should sue, and Johnny Knoxville as a mixed martial artist with a yeast infection. Yep.
Please, kids – choose wisely
1 star (Out of four)
Starring: Victoria Justice,? Jane Levy, Chelsea Handler, Jackson Nicoll
Director: Josh Schwartz
Running time: 90 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for crude and suggestive material, partying and language.
The Lowdown: En route to a Halloween party, a teen loses and must find her little brother before her mom finds out..From left, Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler and Thomas Mann star in "Fun Size."