Sep 3, 2008 at 12:00 am

It's not just the high school seniors on their first campus visit who get hazed in College — the audience gets a healthy dose of all-American debauchery. Using Animal House (1978) as her model, commercials director Deb Hagan takes an adolescent rite of passage and turns it into a primer on collegiate sadism, pushing the R rating to new raunchy lows in the process.Her feature film debut is brash and assured, without a hint of the arch self-mockery that's become de rigueur for a generation that's accessed technology to document the minutiae of their young lives. Even during the most cringe-worthy moments of College, there's something refreshingly old-school about Hagan's experiential approach. No matter how detailed the description given by the effusive Fletcher (Ryan Pinkston), the pre-froshes visiting Fieldmont University won't understand until they've been there themselves.Screenwriters Dan Callahan and Adam Ellison have created three archetypes for this hellish adventure: serious-minded photographer Kevin Brewer (Drake Bell), browbeaten science nerd Morris Hooper (Kevin Covais) and brutish horndog Carter Scott (Andrew Caldwell, in the John Belushi role). If any of them believed a trip to Fieldmont would be about academics, that idea is soon dispelled by their encounters with the inhabitants of the disgraced Beta Phi Tau fraternity, where humiliation's always on tap.There are times when the degradation faced by this trio has the ritualistic quality of Dazed and Confused (1993), but there's nothing in College that points toward maturity or any progression beyond their relentless litany of pain. Focusing on the three Ps of collegiate comedy (penises, poop and partying), the filmmakers have created a campus as obstacle course, where the hapless visitors are subjected to torture techniques perfected through decades of pledge belittlement.If the constant abasement they suffer in College doesn't change the images of Nickelodeon star Bell, American Idol Covais and Disney Channel stalwart Caldwell, nothing can. Since their characters are so sketchy, any audience goodwill is forged solely through the force of their personalities. The villains are much more memorable: Frat leader Teague (Nick Zano) is the primal alpha male, happily enforcing the pecking order, with man-child Bearcat (Gary Owen) as the hairy poster boy of arrested development.Hagan creates a cautionary tale that might prompt horrified parents to consider alterative uses for that education savings account. As generic as it is explicit, College ups the gross-out ante, but never really pays off.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].