21 & Over might be the brainchild of writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore – who may as well change their names by deed poll to “the writers of The Hangover” – but the marketing conveniently forgets that they’re also writers of Four Christmases, Ghost of Girlfriends Past, The Hangover Part II and The Change-Up. Though its premise derives shamelessly from the former success, this stillborn 20-something comedy has more in common with the execrable majority of the team’s output.
Indeed, the premise to this film is virtually identical to The Hangover at a core level, but that’s really where the similarities begin and end. College student Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) has just turned 21 years old, and his two old high school buddies, the sensible, smart Casey (Skylar Astin) and the mental troublemaker Miller (Miles Teller), unexpectedly turn up on his doorstep for a night of heavy partying. Naturally, things get way out of hand before long, and the trio have to scrape through a number of increasingly extreme situations.
It is pure, lazy formula. Think of it as The Hangover for teens (20-somethings will connect far more with Todd Phillips’ film), with a dash of Harold and Kumar (Jeff has a med-school interview to attend the next day), a slice of American Pie (a litany of horny young men gags), and a tipple of Road Trip (Jeff’s disapproving father soon enough gets a whiff of what’s going on, and tries to stop it).
The real issue with 21 & Over isn’t that it’s unoriginal, though, it’s that it’s scornfully mean-spirited; Teller’s character is, as the kids might say, a particularly annoying douche, essentially a thin version of Jonah Hill’s character from Superbad, right down to having the same sense of separation anxiety towards his friends.
The difference between the two is that Hill’s character surrendered his inner man-child, whereas Miller is overwhelmingly aggressive and potty-mouthed to the point that it ceases to be funny and is simply loud and obnoxious. Where is the sweetness that these films need to succeed? There is very little likable about these characters, and so their attempts to shove prospective one-liners down our throats (“I’m gonna f*** you with alcohol!”) fall completely flat.
The appearance of Sarah Wright as a student who manages to run rings around Casey briefly shakes things up a little, a feminine foil to these over-sexed, over-inflated male goofs, but even she soon succumbs to the inane scripting. The absurdist logic of her conversation with Casey at a bar, implying they have only a few years to live their lives before settling down, comes off as reductive and simple-minded in a modern world.
All the drunk behaviour, meanwhile, is more more creepy and/or annoying than funny; Jeff wanting to flip off a bouncer who doesn’t believe he’s 21 because he now has an ID would, in real life, simply result in the bouncer refusing him entry (or worse still, giving him an ass kicking).
Every so often, amid the slow-motion vomit and soft-core nudity, Lucas and Moore strain to introduce a poignant bromance narrative, noting the tragedy of faded friendships, but the severity of the tonal shift is simply too great to overcome. One minute it’s all about bodily fluid, then it becomes overly self-serious about the mental state of the three leads, and then it’s back to penile gags in a flash. It all leads to a surprisingly corny ending that presumes we care about the characters, when really, we’ve not learned anything about them or the demographic they’re depicting.
Boozed-up students might enjoy it, but it’s just going to make anyone over the age of 21 feel really old.
21 & Over is in cinemas today.
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