21 AND OVER
Directed and Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Starring: Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skyler Astin, Sarah Wright, Jonathan Kelz, François Chau, Russell Hodgkinson
Ah… the time honored ritual of turning twenty-one. When asked, most people can remember what they did to mark the special occasion. For instance, yours truly was the sober driver for her festivities – a special shout out to my ex-boyfriend for that one! For many, this American rite of passage is marked with gallons of booze leading into a night of crazy celebration. This is the way college student Jeff Chang’s birthday goes down in the directorial debut of THE HANGOVER’s writing team, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, in 21 AND OVER. While I’m not the film’s target demographic, I can safely say there’s nothing redeeming about this tale for anyone of any age, and you are worse for wear having experienced it.
Much like THE HANGOVER, our debaucherous tale begins at the end. Opening on the peaceful campus of fictional Northern Pacific University, it’s not long until two naked, cock-sock wearing and branded young men enter frame declaring “Let’s never talk about that again!” Flashback one day earlier when loudmouthed party boy Miller (Miles Teller) and his straight laced, Stanford-attending pal Casey (Skylar Astin) arrive in town to celebrate third musketeer Jeff Chang’s (Justin Chon) 21st birthday. But a party pooper in the form of Jeff Chang’s intimidating and controlling father (LOST’s François Chau) stands to put the kibosh on the evening’s fun. Not letting him stand in their way, the trio hits the bars hard – so hard they don’t know how to get Jeff Chang home to rest up for his medical school interview in the morning. And what happens next is a quest filled with predictable hijinks and almost zero hilarity.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle this film can’t surmount is that it’s almost impossible to convince us these guys were friends in the first place. If they don’t talk anymore, why are Miller and Casey traveling across country to visit this kid?! Of course Asian stereotypes are alive and in full effect here. And I would expect no less as every character is a one-dimensional archetype. The film takes a decided “let’s not spare anyone” approach to mean-spirited comedy. It’s racist, misogynist, homophobic and – even worse – totally insulting to the audience’s intelligence. There’s one very specific clue dropped at the beginning that even the most drunk college kid would point out as the key to where Jeff Chang lives. And it’s a face-palm-inducing moment when that discovery is made on screen. Also cringe-worthy is the ham-handed attempt at sentimentality that’s been shoe-horned in. Throughout the film we see the pieces to the puzzle come together about Jeff Chang’s turbulent college life, and every time the script (which incidentally was Moore and Lucas’ spec script) fumbles the ball. It all leads to a very predictable outcome replete with a speedy, unsatisfying resolution.
The lone saving graces of this film are the charismatic and – quite frankly – adorable cast. As always, Teller is an absolute pleasure to watch. Even during his character’s rapeyist moments, he’s still endearing and magnetic. Astin is sweetness incarnate. Whatever the dumb situation playing out on screen, it’s a joy to see the formidable pair play off each other. Chon performs most of the film’s heavy lifting as he’s both the physical comedian and the catalyst for poignant revelations. Unfortunately, Sara Wright, who plays Casey’s conquest, is dealt short shrift here as she is exceptionally funny (see THE LOOP as proof) but is only as good as the bland material allows her to be. She’s barely one-dimensional.
As this is from the comedy team that brought us one of the most uproarious (albeit misogynist) comedies of the 00’s, I expected a lot more in the originality department. Lacking the laughs, fun and vibrancy of a fantastic college comedy, 21 AND OVER should be something you skip.
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