Rigidly formulaic and flagrantly unlikable, if slickly and effectively assembled, 21 & Over is a none-too-subtle attempt to recreate The Hangover for the college-age crowd. Which isn’t very surprising, coming from the writing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, making their directing debut here after penning the first Hangover flick.
This go-around, however, is a lot less fun than any hangover; with little to say and even less in the realm of scripted comedy, this is one long, meandering night on campus with few surprises and a foregone conclusion. The agreeable nature of familiarity can only take it so far; at some point, something – anything – more is required to justify its existence.
Taking place from dusk till dawn over the course of a single night – thoughts of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, if briefly invoked, are quickly dispatched – 21 & Over follows the misadventures of a trio of collegiate youths who hit a few bars to celebrate the 21st birthday of Jeff Chang (Justin Chon). Never just Jeff. Always “Jeff Chang”. It’s that kind of comedy.
Despite having to wake up early for a job interview – to impress his scary Asian father – Jeff Chang drinks so much that he passes out cold. So cold, in fact, that he can’t be temporarily woken to mumble his address so his buddies –friends from high school visiting his college, who don’t know where he lives – can get him home.
In the real world, Jeff Chang might be dying of alcohol poisoning. Here, his friends lug his body around campus like a lifeless corpse while desperately searching for his apartment as the plot strains itself further and further in a vain attempt to justify this scenario. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is your movie. The poignant struggle to get a drunk safely home.
Jeff Chang, inebriated and largely forgotten throughout most of the film, is at least a vaguely memorable character, if only for being the token minority. The leads of 21 & Over, meanwhile, may as well have disappeared into the ether.
In place of the traditional lead characters, the film gives us the motor-mouthed, Stifler-inspired asshole Miller (Miles Teller, who was so good in Rabbit Hole) and the forgettable pretty-boy best friend/sidekick (the Thomas Ian Nicolas character in American Pie) Casey (Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin).
Flaunting the lack of actual comedy (you know, setup, punchline, jokes) so common among mainstream comedies, a lot rides on the actors and characterizations to carry the film. Unfortunately, the duo of rude & bland – minus any kind of character arc, and complete with a throwaway romance – just don’t cut it. We may not need a traditional straight man, but we need someone likable enough to give a damn about.
Tailor-made fast food for undemanding audiences, 21 & Over is a diverting-enough ride for its target audience that is unlikely to ever be seen or heard from again. As campus comedies go, this one can’t even compare with PCU, let alone Animal House. It’s certainly an interesting companion piece to Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which ruthlessly skewers the demographic that junk like this is made for.