||“This is bad, April. This is very, very bad.” Those lines are recited about fifteen minutes into “Fun Size” by Wren (Victoria Justice), the sweet young heroine of this Nickelodeon-produced teen comedy, and truer words have never been spoken. The movie is obviously striving for a John Hughes vibe, but its obtuse makers have confused grossness with geniality and weirdness for wit. If you want to see how wrong a Hughes-inspired frolic can go, it certainly fills the bill; but it’s not recommended that you choose to find out.
The plot is one of those “crazy night” things so prevalent in this genre. It happens to be Halloween, and though Wren and her best buddy April (Jane Levy) have been invited to a party by campus stud Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonnell), her mom Joy (Chelsea Handler)—recently widowed and trying to recapture her youth by dating a much younger man called Keevin (Josh Pence)—orders her to take her little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) out trick-or-treating instead while she goes off to a bash with her new boyfriend. Wren loses Albert (an irritating tyke who’s refused to talk for a year) and spends the rest of the night searching for him, helped by the reluctant April, Wren’s nerdy friend (and boy-who-worships-her-from-afar) Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and his equally nerdy pal Peng (Osric Chau).
Albert, meanwhile, falls in with Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch), a goofy but well-meaning convenience-store clerk, who takes him along on a mission to toilet paper the apartment of the girlfriend who dumped him and, after that, punk her new guy (Johnny Knoxville). That gets them into heaps of trouble.
There are some decent elements in “Fun Size”—Middleditch, for example, makes an amiable doofus, and there’s a sharp cameo by Holmes Osborne as the bewildered father of one of Kevin’s dumb friends. But tonally the picture is all thumbs. It’s perhaps understandable that the makers opted to go for a somewhat older audience than usual for Nick features, but they’ve miscalculated badly with several sexually suggestive bits, most notably a grotesque set-piece that ends with a huge plastic chicken looking as though it’s humping a car.
But as if that weren’t bad enough, there’s a thread running through the script that uses a misperception of child molestation as a source of amusement. And the big finale actually involves what amounts to the kidnapping of Albert. There’s no actual danger to kids, of course, but the very thought of employing the matter as a source of laughs is in extremely poor taste. As are the jokes involving Roosevelt’s lesbian mothers, who are portrayed as wacky hippie types. There’s an effort to moralize at the end—Wren learns responsibility, and comes to see the deeper qualities in Roosevelt, who’s obviously her soulmate, while her mother, disgusted by the brazen stupidity of the party her dude of a date takes her to, returns to sanity and puts her kids first. But in neither case does it come across as anything but manipulative schmaltz.
And even apart from these appallingly misjudged elements, the movie simply isn’t funny. The dialogue is lame, the situations forced, and Josh Schwartz’s direction regularly a beat or two off. Under the circumstances it’s unfair to judge the cast too harshly, but certainly the performances are no better than what one would find on Nick any day of the week. Perhaps the youngsters have a chance at a career, but on the evidence here it seems doubtful indeed.
Technically of sitcom quality, “Fun Size” gives new meaning to the PG-13 rating. Any parent worth their salt will prohibit kids under thirteen from seeing it, for reasons of quality as well as taste. Everyone over thirteen should avoid it on the grounds that it’s likely to upset their stomachs as well as their brains.