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.
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.
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.
[Photo Credit: Relativity Media]