If you liked “The Hangover” but felt like it needed more projectile vomit, stampeding buffaloes and naughty sorority pledges being spanked, then “21 & Over” is the feel-good, feel-bad movie for you.
The writers of that 2009 smashed smash hit, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, wrote the script here, too, and direct for the first time. Comparatively, it is simultaneously amped-up and slapped together. It is both younger and dumber but also even more equal opportunity in choosing its targets; the same people who get tooled on also rise up and enjoy a certain amount of empowerment.
Sometimes this balancing act works and sometimes it doesn’t. “21 & Over” is at its best when it’s riding an all-night, boozy high, when it captures a sensation of idiotic invincibility. When it tries to be about something – growing up and being responsible but still maintaining the fun and friendships of youth – it feels a bit strained.
While comparisons to “The Hangover” are inevitable, “21 & Over” is actually reminiscent of a different and specific kind of movie: the early Vince Vaughn-Jon Favreau romp. The charismatic Miles Teller (“Rabbit Hole,” “Project X”) as Miller functions as the Vaughn figure, all swagger and snappy banter. Likably low-key Skylar Astin (“Pitch Perfect”) as Casey is more self-effacing and cautious as Favreau has been.
At the center of their push-pull is their mutual childhood best friend, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon of the “Twilight” movies), whom they always refer to as Jeff Chang, as in “Did we just kill Jeff Chang?” While they’ve all gone their separate ways for college, Jeff’s 21st birthday brings them back together again – or rather, Miller and Casey just show up at Jeff’s university to take him out for a wild celebration.
But Jeff has a medical school interview at 8 a.m. the next day, arranged for him by his ridiculously demanding and stern father (Francois Chau) who insists that he join the family tradition and become a doctor, too.
Clearly, Jeff Chang isn’t going to make it.
What starts out as “just one beer” – ha ha – becomes many beers, and shots, and a mechanical bull ride, and random make-out sessions. And that’s just the beginning. The getting-hammered montage is actually a kick as the trio hops from one campus bar to the next (“21 & Over” was filmed at the beautiful University of Washington), giving us a glimpse of how these disparate guys could have been best pals in the first place.
If the entire movie was one big drunkfest, though, it would be a little monotonous and redundant. There are only so many drinking games in the world. Lucas and Moore try to balance the raunchiness with reality, as the friends struggle to figure out what to do with their lives once the buzz – and college – are over. These segments don’t feel nearly as well thought-out and the tonal shifts can be a little jarring, but the actors always have a nice camaraderie with each other.
And in the end, everyone gets a chance to shine, or at least enjoy a little revenge: the Latina sorority girls and the Asian field hockey player and the weird, hairy resident assistant and the drugged-out homeless guy in the Native American headdress and yes, even Jeff Chang.
“21 & Over,” a Relativity Media release, is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs and drinking. Running time: 93 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.