'21 & Over': 'Hangover' for the young
Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
It was inevitable that the screenwriting team behind the smash hit "The Hangover" would make the jump behind the camera, and it should come as little surprise that writers and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have done so with their "21 & Over," which is essentially "The Hangover" reworked for the younger set. Lucas and Moore have pillaged their own previous work for their feature directorial debut, replacing key elements like "Las Vegas" with "wild college campus" and "bachelor party" with "21st birthday" and even "they lose friend" with "they lose friend's address." The results are decidedly mixed, but "21 & Over" is undeniably the product of "The Hangover," and while it's no instant classic, it will easily sate the thirst of moviegoers eager for wild times.
Friends since high school, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) hit the fictional Northern Pacific University to surprise their other best high school pal, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), on his 21st birthday with an evening of high-spirited (read: alcohol-fueled) fun. Unfortunately, Jeff Chang (and his exceedingly strict father) have different ideas: Jeff Chang (he only ever goes by both names) has a medical school interview the next morning, so partying is absolutely forbidden. Wily Miller convinces Jeff Chang they'll have but one beer -- quick cut to an absolutely hammered Jeff Chang -- and Jeff Chang's plans are as obliterated as his liver.
Lucas and Moore's approach to wild nights is of the kitchen-sink variety, as "21 & Over," much like "The Hangover," is filled to the brim with every possible insane thing that could happen on a booze-soaked night. There are theme bars, loss of bodily functions, a poorly-planned sorority house break-in, a late night pep rally, a rampaging buffalo, a guy in a diaper, a number of brushes with death, a branding or two, random nudity, milk-chugging, keg-standing, a dancing guy in a Native American headdress, and that's just a slice of some of the high jinks the boys get up to in the film. Yet, for all its relatively harmless wackiness, the film is also frequently offensive, as "21 & Over" needlessly embraces casual racism, sexism and homophobia.
Humor missteps aside, "21 & Over" hinges on its rising-star leads, with Teller's rapid-fire charm on full display here, his chemistry with "Pitch Perfect" darling Astin feeling real and rich. While "21 & Over" is consistently debaucherous and infantile, Lucas and Moore have taken the time to build in a relatable and slightly serious underlying theme about the shifting nature of friendships, and it's what gives weight to an otherwise run-of-the-mill drinking comedy.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.