I don’t think I laughed once during this movie. Maybe I chortled a bit at one or two scenes, but that really doesn’t qualify as a laugh. “21 and Over” is essentially a rip-off of “The Hangover” with elements of “Superbad” thrown in for good measure. It aspires to be a classic comedy like those films and even “Animal House” and “Adventures in Babysitting” among others, but it doesn’t even come close. Regardless of the strong comic energy put forth by the cast, this film is a complete waste of time and was in many ways largely offensive.
Lifelong friends Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) are in town to pick up their friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) and take him out for the time of his life. Yes, Jeff’s 21st birthday has arrived, and his friends are not about to let him celebrate it alone. But wouldn’t you know it, he has a very important medical school interview to go to in the morning and his dad played by François Chau (yes, Shredder from the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies) is deadly serious about his son living up to the family name. Still, Miller and Casey are determined to take him out to celebrate, and Jeff agrees to go out as long as he’s restricted to only one drink.
But of course, this wouldn’t be a movie without disaster courting our characters. Realizing he can now go to all these college bars that he was once denied entrance to, Jeff goes insane and drinks every single bit of alcohol he can get his hands on. Things come to a gross climax when Jeff rides a mechanical bull similar to one at the Saddle Ranch Chop House off of Sunset Boulevard, and he unsurprisingly vomits all over the place. The filmmakers go out of their way to film the vomit in slow motion, but it’s far more disgusting than it is amusing. Heck, Linda Blair vomiting pea soup at Jason Miller in “The Exorcist” was far more amusing than this, and that was a horror movie!
Now Miller and Casey have to get Jeff home and ready for his big interview, but they soon discover that they don’t remember his address. Never mind that they were there earlier in the day; these douchebags don’t bother to keep a copy of Jeff’s address with them! Great. So from there they go through a lot of crazy adventures as they try to get Jeff’s address from a whole bunch of different people, and you know that these guys are not going to get the answer they’re looking for until it is almost too late.
Everything in “21 and Over” feels so recycled from all those comedies we love to watch growing up. The guys end up breaking into a female Latino sorority and, in the process of trying to get Jeff’s address, get two of the girls to make out with each other. Then there’s a character who mistakes a tampon for a candy bar, an obnoxious jock that is looking to beat up anybody just because he can, and of course we get an obligatory scene of Miller and Casey being forced to make out with one another. That last scene has been done to death in “American Pie 2” and just about every Adam Sandler comedy ever made, and the fact that filmmakers still use this device is just tiresome because the audience’s reaction to it says more about them than what unfolds onscreen.
Our main characters are also forced to go nude in several scenes with nothing but a tube sock or a teddy bear to cover their privates. Now I have seen way too many comedies to find this bit the least bit amusing anymore, and besides the Red Hot Chili Peppers did this same gag to greater effect years ago when these actors were just babies. By the time this came up I was ready to leave the theater because the odds of anything original happening after that were completely moot.
Furthermore, these guys end up saying some of the most asinine dialogue I have heard any character say in a movie recently. While it may be designed to make them sound hip and cool, they instead come across as homophobic and borderline racist. Miller in particular keeps making statements about different races and nationalities that have to be heard to be believed. I think the writers wanted Miller to be like Zach Galifianakis’ character from “The Hangover,” but while the latter was so funny because he never fully understood what was coming out of his mouth, Miller is clearly someone who should know better than to open his mouth.
There’s another scene where Casey, while making small talk with the lovely coed Nicole (Sarah Wright), explains why he isn’t interested in joining a fraternity. Now I’m not going to repeat exactly what Casey said, but I can say that the audience at the preview screening I saw it with reacted in shock to what they heard. If it was intended to be funny, it failed miserably.
“21 and Over” marks the directorial debut of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and they coincidentally are the same two people who wrote the screenplay for “The Hangover.” Now I have heard them say that “21 and Over” is not meant to be a copy of “The Hangover,” but I can’t help but think that they’re just fooling themselves. “21 and Over” more or less has the same setup, and the only real difference is that none of the characters are trying to figure out what they did the night before because they know all the gory details. Both Lucas and Moore are nice guys, but they can’t hide the fact that there’s nothing here to set this movie apart from so many other college comedies we’ve seen over the years.
I do have to give the actors some credit though. While they are stuck with a script that clearly needed more work done on it, they throw themselves into their performances with sheer comic abandon. Teller, who stole many scenes in the “Footloose” remake as Willard, doesn’t hold anything back as Miller, and he is a very talented actor. Astin, whom you might remember from “Pitch Perfect,” does have a very charming quality about him. Then there’s Chon who has finally freed himself from all those “Twilight” movies, and he does pull off making his character look believably drunk. But in the end their efforts don’t really matter because the movie still sucks.
The most ironic thing about “21 and Over” is those audience members who are 21 and older will most likely hate this movie. They are now at an age where they have seen these movies so many times that they will be rolling their eyes at this one. As for those under the age of 21, they may very well enjoy it because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to see other college comedy movies that are so much better than this one.
When I turned 21 years old, my birthday celebration was nothing like this. In retrospect, I am thankful for that as what everyone goes through in “21 and Over” is more horrific than funny. There are few things more depressing in life than a comedy that doesn’t make you laugh, and this is one of them.
½* out of * * * *
NOTE: It was reported by the website VeryAware.com that there will be a very different version of this movie shown in China. It turns out that Chinese companies put a lot of money into the making of “21 and Over,” and as a result it is being re-cut for their more conservative audiences. What they will end up seeing is a movie about how Jeff Chang leaves China to study in the United States and ends up being corrupted by “Western partying ways.” Apparently, it starts with Jeff at a Chinese college, and scenes for the movie were shot in the city of Linyi, Shandong province to reflect this. It will end with Jeff returning to China and realizing that his time in the U.S. was just a bad idea.
Will we ever get to see this version in America? Odds are it will be far more interesting!
Courtney Howard, “Raunch-com 21 AND OVER Plans Different Cut For Overseas Market,” VeryAware.com, February 22, 2013.