"21 And Over" Fails To Provide Consistent Laughs

Ironically, moviegoers twenty-one and over are the exact demographic that probably won’t enjoy “21 And Over,” a film unsurprisingly engineered to appeal to the most juvenile of sensibilities (read: adolescents who aren’t old enough to see it). In all its binge-drinking, profanity-laced, vomit-soaked glory, the film’s stupefying lack of self-awareness ends up being its biggest enemy. You see, the creative team apparently decided that the more offensive and outlandish the material, the funnier it was. In fact, the exact opposite is true. It’s the handful of genuinely silly but harmless gags and grounded character moments that keep the picture from being a total loss.

Miles Teller (“Project X”) and Skylar Astin (“Pitch Perfect”) star as Miller and Casey, two best friends who meet up to throw an impromptu 21st birthday party for their buddy, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon). Hijinks ensue, varying from just plain crass to unbelievably crude. The leads spend most of their screen time committing a variety of felonies that are uniformly played for laughs while many of the plot points are cribbed from other R-rated comedies, most notably “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” and “The Hangover.”

That the screenplay treats Jeff, a young Asian man, as little more than a prop is troubling, as is the unrelenting usage of his full name (the character is actually credited as ‘JeffChang’). In fact, an undercurrent of racism runs through the entire movie, from jokes about Asian parents, to Hispanic sororities, and all the way back to Asian facial features. The lazy, cavalier nature of these references zaps them of any potential for laughs. They’re nothing more than placeholders and they add nothing to the story or its characters.

Yet, to Chon’s credit, he works a respectable amount of magic with the physical side of his role (his character is blackout drunk for most of the film), while Teller is relegated to a Vince Vaughn impression (but louder and more obnoxious) and Astin comes off as an uptight, uncharismatic Michael Ian Black.

The first act is almost laugh-free, culminating in one of the characters eating a (thankfully unused) tampon. It’s a scene that helpfully serves as a barometer for the audience. As the funniest gag to that point, it’s something of a comedic ultimatum. You’re either willing to lower yourself to the film’s level, or you might as well take a walk. Many will walk. But without that luxury, I hunkered down and hoped the film would get better. It did.

Fortunately, somewhere amidst the penning of binge-drinking montages, one of the writers decided that the screenplay was lacking a human element. It’s in the moments that Miller and Casey see their friendship falling apart that we begin to care, despite their boorish behavior and the hackneyed narrative beats that drive their actions. The idea of friends growing apart is hardly an innovative story machination, but it’s relatable and it comes across as heartfelt. And when the film ultimately goes in a darker direction, the bond between the leads is the only thing that holds the story together.

“21 And Over” is just funny enough to validate its own existence, but it won’t win over serious moviegoers, nor will it please parents or authority figures with its portrayal of the drinking culture – no matter how exaggerated it might be. But, for those who like their comedy bawdy, this will likely fit the bill. It’s loud, lewd, ludicrous, and entirely inappropriate for its target audience. But that’s never stopped the genre from major box office returns in the past.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: March 1, 2013
Studio: Relativity Media
Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Screenwriter: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Starring: Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin, Sarah Wright, François Chau, Jonathan Keltz, Daniel Booko, Dustin Ybarra
MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs and drinking)