Like the diminutive treats that give the film its title, "Fun Size" may pale next to the big candy bars of one-crazy-night movies -- "American Graffiti," "Sixteen Candles," "Dazed and Confused" -- but it still leaves you with the flavor of something fun.
Treated like off-brand candy corn by Paramount (who waits until October 26 to dump a Halloween movie into theaters?), "Fun Size" will tickle audiences who venture out to see it and might even become a surprise October cult perennial.
Victoria Justice (Nickelodeon's "Victorious") stars as Wren, a high-school nerd (already, we're straining credulity) who gets a shot at popularity when BMOC dreamboat Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonell, "Prom") invites her and her sassy pal April (Jane Levy, "Suburgatory") to his swellegant Halloween party. Their plans are disrupted when Wren's mom Joy (Chelsea Handler) makes Wren take care of her younger brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) for the night.
Wren's father died the previous year, which has impacted everyone in the family: Wren wants to leave Cleveland after high school and attend his alma mater, NYU; Albert has pretty much stopped speaking; and Joy has been dating the 27-year-old Keevin (Josh Pence).
Naturally, the prank-loving Albert manages to ditch his keepers, sending Wren and April all over town to find him, with the help of debate nerds Roosevelt (Thomas Mann, "It's Kind of a Funny Story") and Peng (Osric Chau). Meanwhile, Joy finds herself at a Halloween party where she's closer to the age of the host's parents than to the other guests. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.
Screenwriter Max Werner and director Josh Schwartz (the guy behind "The O.C.," "Gossip Girl" and "Chuck") clearly have several well-worn copies of "Adventures in Babysitting" between them, but they keep the gags coming at a brisk pace. (When April realizes that Roosevelt refers to his "moms" because he has two lesbian mothers (played by Ana Gasteyer and Kerri Kenney), she exclaims, "I thought he was just talking like Lil Wayne!") The creators are aided substantially by a talented ensemble of comic actors, including Garfunkel & Oates' Riki Lindhome and "SNL" vet Abby Elliott.
It's worth pointing out that young Nicoll gives good deadpan, but it's the film's treatment of his character that may be a turn-off to some parents. Yes, this movie hits screens with the Nickelodeon seal of approval, but 8-year-old Albert gets into more than one stranger's car in a plot development that makes this movie possibly unsuitable for pre-tweens.
That particular element won't be a problem for older viewers, but where "Fun Size" does go awry is in trying to wedge melancholy into the wackiness. It's not out of the question to make the death of Wren and Albert's father a plot point, but the movie veers deep into the weeds of their sadness, and it throws the comedy off balance far longer than it should.
Still, it's hard not to admire a comedy that dresses its characters up as Aaron Burr or geneticist E.B. Lewis for Halloween, much less offers an extended public mortification gag revolving around Josh Groban. Like those mysterious peanut-butter flavored blobs they wrap in orange and black wax paper, you'll probably forget "Fun Size" by November 1, but come next October, you may find yourself hankering for another taste.