A film review by Craig J. Koban March 13, 2013

21 AND OVER j
½ 

2013, R, 93 mins.

MIller: Miles Teller / Casey: Skylar Astin / Jeff Chang: Justin Chon / Dr. Chang: Francois Chau / Nicole: Sarah Wright

Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

21 AND OVER pathetically feels like it borrows from...I dunno...about 21 other college, frat house, party-all-night, and coming-of-age comedies and does very little, if anything, to make itself stand out from the pack.  The film marks the directorial debut of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the pair that wrote the first two HANGOVER films.  It shows.  21 AND OVER is essentially a HANGOVER film in every conceivable manner, except this time – eureka! – the makers have inserted in just-turned-legal young adults.  

My...how original.  How very…freakin’…original.

This film reminded me considerably of last year’s PROJECT X, a film that I greatly regret having sat through.  Like that wasteful and offensive effort, 21 AND OVER seems to wear a self-indulgent and arrogant badge of honor that celebrates and romanticizes bawdy and illicit behavior from young people.  I find this all kind of soul cruising.  I’m not trying to be a nagging nincompoop of negativity…or a prude for that matter (some of my favorite comedies revolve around the thoughtless irresponsibility of its characters).  Yet, there’s just something unsavory and tired about these recent films that try to cash in on brash, foul, and wholeheartedly loathsome people - just out of adolescence -  that wallow in callous sex, drug, and alcohol induced fantasies.   I find all of this less amusing than I do downright demoralizing as an adult viewer. 

The title, of course, refers to one of the main characters, a straight-A college kid named Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), who faces a very big and important medical school interview that will occur at precisely 8am the next day, which has been orchestrated by his aggressively domineering father (Francois Chau).  Of course, this is all expositional set-up, because you just know that since it is Jeff’s 21st birthday – making him of legal drinking age – that his best buddies Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) will take him out on a promise of returning him home early that will never, evvvveeerr be fulfilled.  The lads in question are all stock types we’ve seen countless times in the past: Miller is the cocky Vince Vaughnian motor-mouth; Casey is the reserved soul that hates throwing caution to the wind; and Jeff is superficially an innocent nerd-babe in the woods that, deep down, is a damn, dirty party animal when under a thoroughly inebriated haze. 

 

 

The night begins quaintly enough and based on Miller’s promise that he’ll get Jeff home safe and sound early.  Predictably, the evening gets way, way out of hand and snowballs from one humiliating and wickedly amoral incident to the next.  Worse yet is that, during the mayhem, the boys forget where their now thoroughly intoxicated friend lives, despite initially going to Jeff’s home to pick him up for the night’s festivities, precluding that they obviously had his address either written down or on their mobile phones from the very beginning.  Of course, the aggravation of returning Jeff to his home that they can no longer find (Jeff is so thoroughly sloshed that he can’t even speak) reeks of plot contrivance, essentially given the three swingers an excuse to go on a series of increasingly lewd and debasing adventures.     

Just what kind of lewd and debasing adventures, you may ask?  Well, at one point the are chased out of an all Latino female fraternity for committing one indiscretion (actually, make that a couple), which leads to them being stalked by the ravenously angry girls throughout the film.  Then there is a violent altercation at a bonfire-laden pep rally, during which we see a male a-hole cheerleader being run down by a stampeding buffalo mascot.  This cheerleader just happens to be the same dude that Jeff accidentally hit in the face with a dart and a local watering hole early in the film, and he's also the boyfriend of a girl (Sarah Wright) that Casey has the hots for.  Then there is an extended sequence of the boys having to navigate up multiple levels of a frat house going through games of beer pong and 4L milk chugging to get valuable Intel on the location of Jeff’s home.  Jeff, meanwhile, is so completely wasted that he doesn’t even realize that, throughout the night, he has done everything from confusing tampons with candy and has a stuffed animal glued where no stuff animal should ever be glued. 

There’s nothing wrong with a filthy movie.  Really.  But 21 AND OVER, like many hard-R rated comedies, seems to desperately and forcefully go out of its way to be foul mouthed and dirty (the dialogue never has a sense of believable crispness or flavor, seeing as the boys seem to use a vulgarity every second word; note to screenwriters: F-bombs should be used to punctuate a gag and not immaturely serve as the gag itself).  On top of the unmitigated blue streak that comes out of the characters’ mouths at all times, 21 AND OVER seems to find casually racist throwaway lines as uproarious.  The film works around it – at least it thinks it does – by having the young men pause and comment on their stereotypical slurs they seem to frequently direct towards Asians, Latinos, African Americans, Serbs, and so on.  All of this is not helped, for example, by the fact that Jeff’s father is a pillar of racial profiling: he’s a stern, hateful and unsympathetic Asian father caricature that hates negligent young people.  Now, if the script had any novelty, it would have written the father against type as equally hedonistic and impulse driven as the young men and would have allowed him to join them on their night of debauchery.

The film’s story manipulations get really hard-to-swallow, especially when it’s revealed that the hapless Jeff is not a perfect student and then he apparently tried to commit suicide.  Huh?  You can’t go out of your way to be an unabashed binge-drinking party film that’s preposterously all over the map with all-nighter craziness and then also try to imbue moments of tenderness and solemnity into the proceedings.  This creates a very odd disconnect in the film.  21 AND OVER wants to do an about-face between from being an exhibition of raunchy shenanigans towards being a serious drama about lifelong friendships that are dwindling and how fathers ruin their son’s dreams with their overbearing scholastic pressures.  This film has no business trying to be as dramatically stern as it is at times. 

I will say this, though: the cast is game to do just about anything.  In particular, I admire Miles Teller as an actor, mostly because of his searing work in RABBIT HOLE and for how much screen presence he had playing an uncoordinated red neck high schooler in the recent FOOTLOOSE remake.  Here, Teller has sort of an agreeably arrogant charisma that makes him stand out above his co-stars.  Yet, the film around his talent is generic, paint-by-numbers, and, most egregiously, never really is as joyously hilarious as it thinks it is.  What is funny is that 21 AND OVER tries to preserve a semblance of wild and licentious spontaneity with its characters’ out-of-control party night to end all party nights, but since we’ve seen umpteen versions of this same story before, the film just becomes a woefully formulaic endurance test.  

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