Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's The Hangover successfully translated the "one crazy night" into an absurdist thriller and, more importantly for the writing duo, a mega-hit. For their directorial debut, 21 & Over, the two adapt their manchild mystery for the college crowd nearly beat for beat, substituting laughably idiotic adults for the saddest trio of bros ever brought to screen. The characters in the film spew profanity, race jokes, anti-women ideology, and pop culture non sequiturs (who doesn't love a Shrek joke?) all in the name of "having a great time." This can work — Superbad stands as proof. Instead, the script for 21 & Over scrapes the bottom of the barrel then shotguns it into our faces, amounting to a cesspool of unfunny that will likely breed a new generation of douchebags if (when?) it's taken in by impressionable youngsters.
RELATED: Watch the Debaucherous '21 and Over' Trailer
A college senior with high aspirations of chugging beers and getting laid, Miller (Miles Teller) arrives to town to meet his two best high school pals, Casey (Skylar Astin) and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), for the latter's 21st birthday. Jeff insists they stay in — the next morning is his big medical school interview — but no, Miller insists that friends don't let friends go uncelebrated. "I am going to f**k you with alcohol," Miller proclaims with terrifying authority. And so the adventure begins: what starts as a round of beers explodes into a rampage through the college campus bar scene. When Jeff slow-motion vomits while riding a mechanical bull (an expulsion repeated four times over), the friends decide it's finally time to go home. Except, they have no idea where home is.
With Jeff blacked out, Miller and Casey set off to find someone who has a clue. All of the answers have a road block; hoping to find their friend Nicole (Sarah Wright), the men sneak into a Hispanic sorority. Focus becomes their biggest dilemma after Miller and Casey stumble upon two new pledges waiting to be "punished" by their "Pledgemistress." Who can resist spanking two co-eds under the guise of hazing? These two can't. When they're discovered, they run to their next insane scenario, Lucas and Moore turning the Hispanic sorority girls into 21 & Over's version of the Hangover gangsters. It wouldn't feel as offensive as it does if the reasoning and execution wasn't clunkier than drunk Jeff Chang walking on two feet.
21 & Over's great offense is its complete misuse of two great young actors. Since Rabbit Hole, Teller has honed a keen sense of timing in both drama and comedy, while Astin impressed with charm and wit in Pitch Perfect. Here, Lucas and Moore fill their leads' mouths with cheap dialogue, a type of lowbrow insight that makes Tucker Max look like Henry David Thoreau. Beyond their cookie cutter characters (Miller can't stop clinging to high school; Casey doesn't know how to cut loose and have fun), the two bark quips at one another that would immediately drive any normal human beings apart. Miller digs at Casey for not recalling Nicole's sorority letters because they were on her shirt, and clearly, if he was a man, he should be staring at her chest. Nicole even belittles Casey for his inability to party — apparently his passion for NPR and dream of a job after college are misguided. Dude, take a shot! That's what life is about.
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Teller and Astin do make the whirlwind of hate palatable, but never funny. The only laughs come from a pack of male cheerleaders, whose conception as another angry group chasing Miller and Casey seems to be an excuse to crack a Karate Kid joke. Late in the game, 21 & Over reveals its dramatic undertones and that's when it crosses the line from inane to morally irresponsible. Lucas and Moore want to challenge their 21-year-old protagonists. Instead, they let them off the hook. There are no consequences for the people in this movie. There are no rude awakenings. Our heroes threaten people with guns, decimate a college quad while outdriving the cops, and eventually punch Jeff Chang's dad in the face, but they're in the right. If we were laughing at them as they destroyed their lives, that might be entertaining. Instead, 21 & Over is just a boring lesson in why beer pong and one-night stands should be the number one priority in life.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
[Photo Credit: Relativity Media]
Think Mean Girls meets High School Musical meets whatever other high school teen scenario you can think of. Here four teenage girls make up the Bratz contingency each come from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds—just like the dolls they are based on. There’s Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos) a quiet Latina beauty with a great voice; Sasha (Logan Browning) the outgoing black cheerleader who loves to dance; Jade (Janel Parrish) a lovely Asian fashionista who also a wiz in chemistry; and Cloe (Skyler Shayne) the tall Caucasian blonde who despite being a klutz is a star on the soccer field. They’ve been best friends forever (or BFF as they lovingly refer to it) but once they hit high school they drift apart and into respective cliques organized by the narcissistic class president Meredith (Cheslea Staub). Still these BFF’s—who live for clothes make-up and hair products—won’t be pushed down. They’re gonna shake things up and prove it’s always best to just be yourself and stick together. You can’t really blame the unknown girls—each very cute in their own way—for wanting to bring the Bratz dolls to life. It’s a big deal! They get to sing and dance and wear all these cool clothes! They get to throw food in a cafeteria lunch fight! They get to serve sweets at Meredith’s Sweet 16 party dressed as clowns and still look fabulous! All the young girls in the audience will idolize them and wish they were a Brat too (perhaps to their parents’ chagrin). No it’s the adults in the movie you have to scratch your head about and ask “Do they really need the money that bad?” Character actors such as Lainie Kazan who plays Yasmin’s wise grandmother and Jon Voight as the inept high school principal and Meredith’s father just embarrass themselves over and over again—especially Voight who along with his mediocre appearance in Transformers has become the go-to guy to star in movies based on toys. And what’s with this latest trend to make live-action flicks based on toys? You can understand Transformers because they already had their own cartoon show and you know the movie would at least be action-packed full of cool visual effects. But a Bratz movie is a little too much. Even though it tries really hard to send positive messages there’s really nothing redeeming about turning little dolls—who frankly dress a little on the trashy side—into flesh-and-blood teenagers obsessed with how they look and dealing with high school politics. Bratz really only distinguishes itself from other Mean Girls-type movies because of the toy franchise. It would have been easier to take had it aired on the Disney Channel.