Movie Review: 21 and Over
Pros:The performances are mainly charming; it’s fast-paced and consequently, never dull; it provides a few genuine laughs.
Cons:It’s basically a less funny version of The Hangover; it contains more bad jokes than good ones; the depression-related sub-plot feels misguided.
A Hangover-esque comedy that all too often feels like it was written on auto-pilot, though it’s partially redeemed by some spirited acting.
Ever hear the story about a couple of friends who get together and orchestrate a night of booze-fuelled chaos in which a series of increasingly surreal events occur? Yes, the writers who created the hugely successful Hangover films are back, with their directorial debut no less. And unsurprisingly, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have essentially re-made the same movie, albeit set in college.
21 and Over revolves around the antics of Miller and Casey, two long-time friends who worry that they are growing increasingly apart, owing to the fact they now live in separate areas of the country, as Casey attends a college that Miller says he was ‘too dumb’ to get into.
To partially make up for the lack of time spent together, they endeavour to visit a mutual friend of theirs, Jeff Chang, in conjunction with the latter’s 21st birthday. Miller, in line with his hedonistic philosophy and reputation as a troublemaker, is intent on taking Jeff out for a night of drunken shenanigans. However, the less freewheeling Jeff is under pressure from his overbearing, control freak father to get a good night’s sleep, as he has an important med school interview the next morning which could prove vital to his future prospects.
Inevitably though, Jeff eventually agrees to go out for ‘one drink’, and pandemonium ensues (the phrase ‘I think we killed Jeff Chang’ is uttered more than once thereafter).
The film is not particularly original – not only does it take the basic plot of The Hangover and tweak it slightly, but its core relationship between Miller and Casey has a near-identical dynamic to the one involving the characters played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in Superbad. Casey, a la Cera’s character, is the academically bright, overly uptight one, and Miller is the feckless, fun-loving one, who is obsessed with lewd jokes and whose sole intention seems to be causing trouble.
These two characters are played rather well by Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect), with the former in particular performing with a conspicuous degree of gusto and confidence in the role, which suggests he could achieve great things with a better script.
Yet the fact that the movie is less than innovative is not necessarily a flaw. After all, Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman and many others have made several films that are broadly similar over the course of their careers, and enjoyed a great deal of success in the process. Just because filmmakers who are perceived as inferior engage in a similar practice does not therefore mean their subsequent efforts should be dismissed out of hand.
However, the parallels with Superbad and The Hangover turn into a problem when it becomes apparent that 21 and Over contains nowhere near as many laughs as either of the aforementioned films. Swearing, toilet humour and ironic racism can be funny when they’re being used to make subtle and perceptive points (see: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut). However, in this case, such humour all too often feels like a lazy reflex seeking cheap laughs, and at its worst, is genuinely offensive – the film features angry Latinos, humourless Serbs and countless other stereotypes. And worse still is the serious sub-plot, concerning Jeff’s possible suicidal tendencies. This storyline, in which Miller and Casey receive sporadic insights into their friend’s troubling behaviour from those who go to college with him, is patently underdeveloped and thus comes across as almost an afterthought – hardly an appropriate way to deal with such a sensitive issue.
It’s also likely to leave those who promote responsible alcohol consumption less than thrilled – as well as encompassing copious vomiting and a spot of drink driving, one scene that epitomises 21 and Over’s vulgarity involves Jeff getting so drunk that he stands on top of a bar counter and urinates all over the unimpressed onlookers beneath him.
Yet while the jokes sometimes fall flat, at 93 minutes, there are enough crazy plot twists and likeable performers to ensure the movie remains mildly amusing throughout. It is even sporadically elevated to a point where it contains genuine laughs, which mostly occur when the archetypal bully, Randy (Jonathan Keltz), and his two sycophantic cohorts appear onscreen. The level of self-parodic aggression they exude is taken to increasingly outrageous levels each time they turn up, and the manic energy and witty one-liners provided by this terrible trio undoubtedly represents the movie’s high point.
However, such comic peaks are all too rare, meaning 21 and Over is a workmanlike, but ultimately unremarkable effort, unlikely to be enjoyed by anyone who actually is over 21.