So screenwriting duo Scott Moore and Jon Lucas make their directorial debut with 21 and Over. Their previous work includes The Hangover and The Change-Up so it doesn’t take much in the way of imagination to predict what the film is like. Yes, 21 and Over is a retread of the same raunchy comedy we’ve seen countless times before, but there are enough laughs here to make the movie almost worthwhile.
21 and Over follows the exploits of two hapless dorks as they attempt to get their best friend hammered on his twenty-first birthday. By now we’re familiar with the personality types it takes to drive the plots of these movies forward. There’s Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), the reluctant birthday boy who transforms into a wild man after downing more than two dozen shots of assorted liquor; there’s Casey (Skyler Astin), the button-down, responsible member of the group; and there’s Miller (Miles Teller) the aggressive, smooth-talking ringleader.
It goes without saying that the trio gets more than they bargain for after dragging their best friend out for a night of heavy drinking. The two Caucasian leads find themselves stranded after Chang gets too drunk to talk and they end up in a strange part of town. Much of the movie is a comedic retelling of the Odyssey as Miller and Casey attempt to get their unconscious friend back to the safety of his apartment. Before they can return to a state of sobriety, the three must battle angry male cheerleaders, psychopathic sorority girls, and a giant, angry buffalo.
And that’s pretty much all there is to the movie. If you’ve seen Old School, Road Trip, or The Hangover, then you can pretty much see all the twists coming. There’s plenty of alcohol, debauchery, and destruction of public property. The screenplay by Moore and Lucas is just clever enough to keep things from becoming too tedious. They keep the proceedings moving along quickly, but they aren’t ambitious enough to break the mold.
Probably the best thing about the movie is Miles Teller’s performance as the de facto leader of the group. His character is the classic, fast-talking fuck-up. Everyone knows that they shouldn’t listen to a word he says—in fact, they know they should stay away from him—but he’s simply too much of a force of nature to be resisted. Jonah Hill played the part in Superbad, Bradley Cooper fulfilled the role in The Hangover, and Vince Vaughn has built a career out of playing that guy. Miles Teller, however, finds a way to breathe some life into the role.
Teller comes across as the lovechild of Vince Vaughn and Tom Hanks: a motor-mouthed smartass, capable of vacillating between cool and overwhelmed at the drop of a hat. Given the type of character he’s playing, Teller should be completely annoying, and yet he’s just likable enough to be funny instead of grating. It’s a strong comedic performance from an unknown actor, and that performance almost keeps 21 and Over afloat.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to support its three leads. This kids-on-a-mission-to-get-drunk-and-laid plot has simply been done too many times before and done better. The best thing that can be said of the movie is that at least it’s considerably better than last year’s aggressively mediocre Project X.
The screenplay struggles to shove the boys from one whacky scenario to the next, but none of the gags are memorable enough. Everything is largely familiar. The characters themselves and the actors playing them, however, are great. And if screenwriters Moore and Lucas had toned down the slapstick a little in favor of developing their leads, the movie might have been a modern day classic.
As it is, 21 and Over isn’t an un-enjoyable experience. The dialogue and the gags are occasionally sharp and clever. The leads are likable. Someone who hasn’t seen many R-rated comedies will likely find a lot to like here. For anyone else, I recommend downing a couple of six packs of beer before catching this one. The only way to truly enjoy this movie is to see it while being as inebriated as its protagonist.