Josh Schwartz is the man behind the primetime teen soap-operatics of The O.C. and Gossip Girl, but his big-screen directorial debut takes place in the milder territory of the Nickelodeon Movies empire. Led by Victoria Justice, who hasn’t yet escaped from the kiddie network’s stable of wholesome, photogenic stars, Fun Size is a laborious comedy about a Halloween night in Cleveland that feels too grown up in half of its storylines to suit younger audiences, and too juvenile or nonsensical in the rest of its gags to please anyone else.
Justice plays a teenager whose family is crazy—she knows everyone thinks their family is crazy, but hers totally really is, okay? Her 8-year-old brother (Jackson Nicoll) has been acting out and not speaking ever since their dad passed away the year before, and their mother (Chelsea Handler), has been channeling her grief into dating a twentysomething. Justice and her popularity-obsessed bestie (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) get invited to a party being thrown by the school’s cool kid, but before they can head over, they’re saddled with taking care of Nicoll, who immediately runs away. Cue an evening of minor misbehavior in which the endearingly geeky guy (Thomas Mann), who has a crush on Justice, and his pal (Osric Chau) get enlisted to help find the missing boy.
Justice is a pretty, personality-free screen presence, while the more interesting cast members, like Levy and Handler, are stuck in shrill, unsympathetic roles. The film goes through a lot of trouble to arrange gags in which an automated restaurant mascot appears to be humping a car, or where characters drive through downtown, unable to turn off the Josh Groban ballad blaring from their speakers—limp jokes made worse by how clunkily they’re set up, and how far ahead they’re broadcast. But the biggest off-note is how the film calls on its bereavement subtext for both filler material and as a plot device. Out incredibly late with your kid brother while your parent has no idea where the two of you are? Why not sneak into the cemetery on the way home anyway, so one of the sad soundtrack offerings can be whipped out? The final reveal, that (spoiler!) Nicoll has been keeping quiet to prank his mother rather than because of trauma, makes for a weirdly nasty punchline to this garbled feature.