’21 and Over’ Review
'21 and Over,' despite being the directorial debut of the odious 'Hangover' writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, isn't quite the bro-fest you might think it is. Yes, it definitely treads a bit into date rape jokes and offers an easy layup to any and all homophobes in the audience (more on this in a bit) but, by some miracle, more scenes than you might expect will actually make you laugh. Despite a premise that has the blur of a Xerox of a Xerox, there are individual sequences that are, surprisingly, clever and endearing.
'21 and Over' isn't just an elevator pitch, it's a one-floor elevator pitch. “'The Hangover' for students.” Done. This time, instead of a three-way blackout, we're there for the ride. Belushi-esque Miller (Miles Teller) and “nerdy” (movie version) Casey (Skylar Astin) arrive at a college campus to celebrate their pal Jeff Chang (Justin Chon's) 21st birthday. Even though his frighteningly strict father has a med school interview set up for the next morning, the trio go out for a rager that ends in vehicular theft, buffalo stampedes and plush animals glued to sex organs.
Jeff Chang gets so wrecked he has to be carried around like it's 'Weekend at Bernie's' while the other two try to find his apartment. Obstacles are at every corner, as are escalating coincidences and opportunities for increasingly lewd and offensive jokes. In time, though, life lessons are learned, the three friends on the verge of adulthood strengthen their bonds and, by and large, no one is too hurt.
Okay, so 'Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me' it's not. There's not an ounce of social depth to the story – it is merely an opportunity for these three performers to strut their comic chops. They're all talented, particularly Miles Teller who does the best “lovable a**hole” this side of Kenny Powers. He's an equal opportunity offender and the movie, in my opinion, gets away with being coarse coasting on his charisma alone.
I'm quick to roll my eyes at the “bullying comedy” but, by and large, I was surprised at how much '21 and Over' opted instead for goofy moments (a side quest to get to the top of a dorm building grows more absurd with each level) and character-based good cheer. Jeff Chang (always referred to by his full name “Jeff Chang,” by the way) bursting into a bar shouting the quote “where the white women at?” just speaks to me, what can I say? There are racial insults, but since they mostly come from the mouth of the clearly moronic Teller, it gets a pass. In short, '21 and Over' isn't quite as bro-y as the posters would have you believe.
This doesn't mean the audience won't interpret it this way. I had the misfortune to see '21 and Over' with a crowd of neanderthals who were unable to appreciate the subtler comic points of the film – and, by God, I know that's saying something. For those who tune out when Howard Stern stops interviewing porn stars and stars talking about Lenny Bruce, there's a scene that tries to turn the tables on a culture that celebrates two girls making out but won't accept the same for guys. '21 and Over' tries to hold up a mirror (unless I'm giving it way too much credit) but that mirror was forcefully shattered by a crown that heckled back in disgusted homophobia. (In New York! In Chelsea, too!)
I don't exclusively blame the movie, but '21 and Over' clearly failed to get the audience to laugh with the characters and not at the characters. Like I said, there is more than one way to laugh, and '21 and Over' ought to know the difference between offering a wide array and doing anything to achieve one. It's a fault, and one that makes you realize that '21 & Over' is better than expected not because of some master plan, but because of the quite good comic performances of Teller, Astin and Chon.
'21 and Over' opens in theaters on March 1.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.