Distracted by the easy money of Halloween slasher films, Hollywood has long ignored the more fun-spirited side of the modern, billion-dollar Carnivalesque holiday. But it’s the perfect setting for the brand of teen comedies that made John Hughes and Chris Columbus famous. That’s clearly the idea behind Fun Size, which tells the story of a smart and responsible high-school senior (Nickelodeon’s Victoria Justice) whose All Hallow’s Eve turns into a disastrous adventure in babysitting. She wants to go to the cool dress-up party — her idea of a great costume is Ruth Bader Ginsberg — with her shallow bff (Jane Levy). But when her pathetic widowed mother (Chelsea Handler) pawns her devilish little brother on her so she can party like a teenager herself, chaos and coincidences ensue. She loses the kid at a neighborhood haunted house and has to track him down him before mom gets home.
You’d hope that Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz, directing for the first time, would have a better feel for such matter, but Fun Size blatantly and lazily traces mediocre versions of the genre. (Who wants to be a poor poor-man’s version of Can’t Hardly Wait?) There is no attempt to reinvent, and what might have been a half-decent homage is undermined by numbing comic failure. At least Levy delivers her lines with some snap, and even though she could play the snarky best friend in her sleep, she still has fun with it, which is greatly appreciated. Handler, on the other hand, looks literally pained, and fans of the talented comedian will wonder why she’s already taking thankless mom roles after films like Bridesmaids proved a market for brassy female-driven comedies. This movie has no courage and little brains, and is salvaged, if at all, only by its heart. There remains a huge market for a great Halloween teen comedy, but Fun Size is the disappointing apple that your crazy-haired neighbor gives you instead of candy. Feel free to dump this one in the bushes. D+