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3/01/2013

Review: '21 and Over' starring Miles Teller and Skylar Astin


On this exact weekend last year we were treated to the outrageous teen party flick, Project X. No matter one's opinion on it, the thing it did well was toss the viewer right in the middle of the craziest shebang ever, where there was seemingly no line that wouldn't be crossed. Aiming squarely at the same demo is 21 and Over, which also features a lot of young folks drinking, vomiting, and acting like fools, but it's so formulaic and the characters so poorly drawn that there's no hope of it being any fun.

College frat boy comedies that deify the whole university experience are easy to screw up but tough to master. Without a sense of reckless abandon, a kegger full of Budweiser, and some manly camaraderie then you've got nothing. 21 and Over has two of the three, but its missing any sense of real danger or wild sophomoric adventure. The film is ridiculously tame and predictable at every turn, although writer/directors Scott Moore and Jon Lucas don't seem to know it. They try so hard to be offensive that it just comes off as desperate, mean-spirited, and often quite racist.

Moore and Lucas are only worth mentioning because they're known for writing The Hangover, and it's clear they've decided to just crib from what worked and hope nobody notices. This baby-Wolfpack is led by the talented Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, The Spectacular Now) and less-so Skylar Astin as Miller and Casey, two old friends who have gone off to college and have clearly become different people. Miller is an obnoxious loser, we can tell right from the start by his slovenly appearance. Casey is the uptight Jewish guy who will likely be a banker, someday. Oh, yep, he's eying a job at JP Morgan over the summer. They awkwardly reunite to take their pre-med buddy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), whose name is always said in full, out for a few drinks on his 21st birthday. The problem is Jeff Chang's all-important job interview at 8am, which if missed will cause his stern Asian stereotype of a Dad to probably kill him.

Miller steamrolls his buddies into going out for a little while, but one or two beers quickly turns into a few dozen shots. Before we know it, Jeff Chang is in a drunken stupor getting Teddy Bears glued to his penis. Because his friends are abnormally moronic, despite the script's weak attempts to convince us otherwise, Jeff Change constantly escapes, leading to increasingly unfunny scenarios. As the film flails around looking for a way to be shocking, it consistently leans on racism and misogyny as a crutch. At one point the guys find themselves in a Latina sorority, where the boys take advantage of a pair of half-naked, blindfolded pledges in a way that is disgusting at best, abusive at worst.

Unfolding in true Weekend at Bernie's fashion, the guys are forced to drag Jeff Chang's comatose carcass around while avoiding cops, angry Latinas, and the raging male cheerleader boyfriend of Nicole (Sarah Wright), a girl they meet who Casey has the hots for. She's actually a stabilizing influence on the film and one of the few bright spots in a comedic wasteland.

Because this is a total rip-off of The Hangover, there's of course a central mystery that must be solved. While we're teased with the mystery of how Casey and Miller end up on campus branded and buck naked, the unfolding story isn't really concerned with that. Instead it's about finding Jeff Chang's home address so they can get him home. Along the way we learn that he's not handling the college pressure so well. His friends seem to care, although they alternately don't seem all that concerned about the numerous times he almost died. At one point, where he actually does appear to be dead, Miller flat out says "Who cares?” Why are we supposed to care about any of these people?

Teller, who has been excellent in nearly every film he's appeared in, runs off at the mouth with the rapid-fire anxiousness of Vince Vaughn in Swingers. Clearly that was the mandate, and the performance is irritating right from the start. He's better when his natural presence is allowed to shine through, rather than being forced down our throats like a shot of Jagermeister.

21 and Over only captures the youthful zeal for a few moments, as they all finally cut loose at a massive Woodstock-esque concert full of sex, binge-drinking, and bad dancing. It’s the one time where the filmmakers chose to create something spirited and fun, rather than aping something else. There are plenty of good movies that revel in their own irresponsibility and offensiveness, but 21 and Over isn't inspired enough to be one of those.