"Fun Size," a terrifying Halloween prank starring Victoria Justice of the Nickelodeon brat-com "Victorious," concerns a Cleveland high school senior who misplaces her preteen brother on trick-or-treat night. One too many jokey references to child molestation ensue. You should know this going in.
The film, itself a Nickelodeon product, is rated PG-13 and therefore is out to ensnare every preteen paying customer it can find. But it's a soul-crusher, and when I say it may be the most dehumanizing experience since "Hostel: Part II" the comparison is not an idle one.
Dressed as Spider-Man, young Albert (Jackson Nicoll) gets lost, and the high school senior Wren (Justice) and her alleged best friend (Jane Levy) must revise their plans to go to the cool kids party. They embark on a weirdly blase boy-hunt for the missing Albert.
The narrative shape of "Fun Size" recalls the one-crazy-night comedies "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist." Have you ever seen "Nick & Nora"? It's good. It's nothing like this film. "Nick & Nora" deals with young love and a quasi-dangerous adventure while avoiding sending a million mixed or negative messages about high school cliques and awkwardly budding sexuality. Here, by contrast, the rampant snark and witless meanness serve to erode an averagely insecure teen's self-esteem, while pinning its comic hopes on sight gags such as a giant fast-food restaurant rooster simulating intercourse with an automobile. And Chelsea Handler plays a major supporting role. This movie has everything.
Justice, who may well be a talented actress underneath the attitudinal poses, favors a default line reading of huffy, dislikable sarcasm. Imagine that sort of delivery for 78 minutes — which isn't long by feature film standards, but "Fun Size" makes it seem like a lifetime misspent. When the brother (who does not speak, by grief-stricken choice since the death of his father) is scooped up by a lonely convenience mart employee and ultimately kidnapped by a skeeze played by Johnny Knoxville, you can only think: Wha? Huh? Play this stuff for comedy, play it for suspense, play it any way you like, but it does not play.
The director is Josh Schwartz of the TV series "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl," working from a script by Max Werner, a longtime writer — astonishingly, given what passes for punch lines and payoffs in "Fun Size" — on "The Colbert Report." I don't know for whom the hell this bell tolls. Maybe it'll toll for thee, or thine Nickelodeon-fed offspring, but I doubt it.
'Fun Size' -- Zero stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive material, partying, and language)
Running time: 1:18