A willingness to be rude, crude and crass doesn't necessarily translate into uproarious good times as demonstrated by one of the most tame outrageous frat party style movies to come around in a long time. Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore seem to be taking more than a few pages from their two "Hangover" scripts with their directorial debut, "21 & Over". Leaving no cliche unturned, they waste no time setting the tone for what is to come with the introduction to our heroes, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) as they march through an open quad wearing nothing more than tube socks around their junk. Here is when we are supposed to be whisked back in time and learn of all the crazy adventures they had that landed them in such a predicament. The problem is that our imaginations can come up with much crazier and far more entertaining scenarios than they are able to cook up for us which makes the following 90 minutes a very sobering experience.
Providing the thinnest narrative possible, something about three friends getting together for a 21st birthday who haven't seen each other for a long time, getting wasted and having to find a way back home while encountering increasingly bizarre people and situations, isn't necessarily the worst thing a comedy of this sort can do but it serves its purpose at least allowing plenty of opportunities for hi jinks to ensue. Let's face it though, it's always about the party with these types of movies, everything else is secondary at best and these guys do find themselves in some pretty hairy situations. First they party, then break into a sorority house filled with blood thirsty Latinas, crash a pep rally and set a buffalo loose on the campus, party their way up an eight story tall tower by winning a set number of drinking games each step of the way and finally breaking their friend out of a mental hospital. This was clearly supposed to be one of those nights you will always remember.
Sounds like crazy ridiculous fun right? But sadly it isn't, someone forgot to add the fun into this crazy adventure and it shows. These types of films are supposed to revel in their offensiveness, we are supposed to be revolted by the exploits of our three main characters but also enjoy the extreme lengths they go to in order to free themselves of the craziness they keep finding themselves in. But that never happens. Instead of taking a joke about a buffalo set loose on the campus and milking it for all its worth, we get these moments of intimacy between friends (who we could care less about) learning to bond again or seeing Casey try for the thousandth time to woo the hot sorority girl (Sarah Wright). It should all be about adding complication upon complication until it becomes too much to handle and everything comes to a boiling point of frustrations and mass insanity and eventually comes crumbling down on our heroes. This is a party movie, it's supposed to get insane and it never does. Even when it tries to be offensive it comes off as more hateful than fun loving which is a big no no.
Things only get worse when you realize the two guys you are following through all of this are kind of boring. Miller and Casey as our two main protagonists just aren't all that interesting and when they do try to be interesting they come off as obnoxious and annoying. Miller is the loud mouth party guy that won't take no for an answer who secretly is very emotionally fragile and isn't doing as good in life as he makes out. Casey is the successful friend who is about to land a prestigious job at a high end company but has forgot how to have fun and let loose. What do you think the chances are that Casey will teach Miller the benefits of taking charge of his life and growing up while Miller teaches Casey how to let loose and party again? That sounds like a solid bet.
The one thing that does work as its supposed to however is Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), the third member of their trio. Not since "Weekend at Bernies" has an unconscious third party been this amusing. Even before he goes into his alcoholic coma he delivers comedy gold at every turn. Starting with his exploits during their initial bar spree he comes out swinging (peeing on a crowd of women from on top of a bar being a highlight). He's not only funny, but he is also the one character in the entire movie that actually deserves any sort of empathy from the audience. His father issues, while extremely predictable, give him and his story more weight than this brain dead movie deserves. When Miller says they have been crappy friends to Jeff Chang he hits the nail on the head. Jeff Chang deserves much better friends than these guys who seem to think calling him by his full name gets funnier over time. Here's a hint, it doesn't.
All the best bits of the film involve Jeff Chang in his drunken stupor. Even though he isn't as dead as Bernie was in "Weekend at Bernie's", he sure as heck takes a good deal of punishment which never fails to bring a smile. We don't laugh because he is being hurt though, we laugh because it is so cartoonish and unbelievable. Whether he is being tossed off a balcony, shoved on to the dashboard of a smart car, eating tampons, dancing on a car in women's under garments or getting a teddy bear glued to his penis, his consistent punishment keeps this otherwise limp excuse for a comedy at least mildly entertaining. It may be faint praise but Justin Chon's performance is just about the only thing worthwhile in the entire film.
"21 & Over" wants so badly to be the next "Hangover" or at the least wants to channel the same sort of manic craziness those films have, but it just can't do it. Even someone who isn't a fan of the "Hangover" franchise (such as this reviewer) can admit to how much more successful those films are than this one. Even when compared to other frat party style movies ("Van Wilder", "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle") it just can't hold up and never gets as crazy as it should. Although pickings are slim at the box office right now when it comes to comedies, this one still doesn't offer enough laughs to justify the high ticket price or the waste of time. In the end, "21 & Over" is the cinematic equivalent of a fake ID, it thinks it's old enough to party but in reality it hasn't even hit puberty yet.