Movie review: “Admission” fails to live up to potential

From the March 21, 2013 edition

If I were a college admissions agent and “Admission” were a prospective student, it would be one with a good transcript, plenty of potential on paper, but not so great in the interview.

God, I’m beating that analogy to death, huh? I feel like Gene Shalit without the mustache. The point is, “Admission” should have been good, and it is not.

Tina Fey hasn’t quite translated her brilliance at TV comedy to the big screen (“Baby Mama” and “Date Night”?), but her pairing with affable everyman Paul Rudd seemed promising, right? Yeah, well … no.

Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton. She seems a bit too sweet for the work of dashing thousands of teenagers’ (and parents’) dreams, but OK.

On a tour of many of the high-end private schools of the Northeast, she meets John Pressman (Rudd), who runs a progressive academy. John takes a fast interest in Portia, all while championing a brilliant kid (Nat Wolff) whose self-taught ways aren’t traditional Princeton material.

Oh, and the kid may or may not be the son that Portia gave up for adoption when she was in college.

At this point, it’s still pretty hard to look at Fey and not see her iconic “30 Rock” character. That same blustery mix of smarts and glued-together confidence is on display here, so this role doesn’t fall far from the Liz Lemon tree.

That “Admission” fails is certainly no fault of Fey’s, though. The story has too many characters with too many trails to go down. A romance with Rudd’s character develops out of thin air.

I was hoping director Paul Weitz would recapture some of his “About a Boy” magic. No such luck.

One redeeming quality is a scene-stealing turn by the wonderful Lily Tomlin as Fey’s radical feminist mom. If only she had a few more scenes to steal.

There is some heart here, even if the double meaning of the title gets a little eye-rollingly obvious. This movie has lots of potential. It just needed to apply itself.