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Film review: How I Got Into College

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"How I Got Into College" is directed by Savage Steve Holland, who also gave us the off-the-wall teen farces "Better Off Dead" and "One Crazy Summer," both starring John Cusack and featuring zany animated set-pieces (Holland began his show-biz career doing animation).

Though "College" is only his third picture, Holland already seems to have a film signature, a wacky quality that might qualify him as a Mel Brooks for teens, or maybe a demented John Hughes.

Unfortunately, like Holland's other two films, "How I Got Into College" is very uneven, and in this case lacks two ingredients that were essential to the moderate success of the others — John Cusack and those crazy cartoon segments. Cusack is an actor with rare screen charisma, and Holland's black comedy in the form of twisted animation made up his earlier films' funniest moments.

Corey Parker, who has the lead role in "How I Got Into College," is a pleasant enough performer, but he lacks Cusack's charm, and this time out Holland has no animation to fall back on.

Parker plays a high school senior with low SAT scores and no ambition, but, like Cusack in the recent "Say Anything," Parker is in love with a brainy beauty in his school and is willing to go to just about any lengths to win her. When she decides to go to prestigious Ramsey College, Parker decides to follow.

The bulk of the film is made up of comic skits about college recruitment, pompous recruiters vs. idealistic recruiters on a college admissions board, the poor kid who deserves a scholarship, the girl who was queen of her high school campus but finds she's rather ordinary in college, and, of course, the kid whose grades are low but who is very creative and sincere (Parker).

Holland is an inventive director, and though the screenplay is by someone else this time — Terrel Seltzer, whose work here is about as far removed from her "Chan Is Missing" and "Dim Sum" scripts as possible — Holland's touch is evident, with oddball sight gags all over the place and little character quirks that were also noticeable in his other films. Too bad they don't always work.

Despite his having top billing, Anthony Edwards, best remembered as "Goose" in "Top Gun" and as Robert Carradine's best friend in "Revenge of the Nerds," is in a relatively minor supporting role here. But there are some amusing bits by Bob Eubanks in the film's closing moments, Curtis Armstrong as a feverish preacher, "Saturday Night Live" regulars Phil Hartman and Nora Dunn as operators of a shady prep-for-college school, etc.

Holland's instincts fail him far too often this time out, as the jokes often fall flat, and that leaves us free to notice that character development is lacking and the story is too one-note.

If Holland ever gets his stride going, he might have a wonderful comedy inside him yet. But this one isn't it.

"How I Got Into College" is rated PG-13 for profanity, though there isn't much, along with some very mild sexual innuendo.