If you’re part of an ambitious screenwriting duo responsible for one of the biggest comedy scripts of the last few years, it makes good -- though blatantly obvious -- sense to get your first directing gig by recycling your biggest hit. That’s exactly what Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have done with 21 and Over, an R-rated party pic that’s essentially The Hangover (which they wrote) set at a college.
The setup couldn’t be simpler. College seniors and lifelong friends Miller (Miles Teller), a fast-talking hedonist, and Casey (Skylar Astin), a nice guy and soon-to-be stockbroker, arrive at the school where their third BFF, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), is a medical student. It’s Jeff Chang’s 21st birthday, and Miller is desperate to get his buddy blindingly drunk so they can all enjoy one last amazing night before they start their adult lives.
A few hours later, Jeff Chang -- he’s referred to every time by his full name, a trope that grows exponentially more grating as the movie plays out -- is passed out drunk and his two buds can’t remember where he lives. That sends them on a wild adventure around the college campus to find someone who can point them in the right direction so they can get Jeff Chang cleaned up in time for a career-making morning appointment that his demanding father has arranged.
Aside from the “Jeff Chang” gag, 21 and Over walks a fine line of being reliably predictable without ever succumbing to full-blown laziness. The characters are shaded versions of types we’re very familiar with from the American Pie series -- Miller is a less physically threatening Stifler, while Casey is basically a less incompetent Jim. As they drink quantities of alcohol that would hospitalize a rhino, and Casey tries to score with a pretty girl dating an agro cheerleader whose phone may have the info our heroes need, the friends find themselves in a series of wild predicaments. The film tries more and more gross-out gags at the expense of the altogether out-of-it Jeff Chang, including a lengthy, unbroken close-up during which he eats a tampon, and an elongated slow-motion sequence where he throws up while riding a mechanical bull that owes more than a little to Old School.
Lucas and Moore have written this story enough times that they know how to make it flow even when there are long gaps between laughs, and as directors they show a keen eye for casting. Astin is an easily charming presence who’s very good with a witty throwaway line; he’s capable of coming off like a regular guy in the midst of the most outrageous moments in the plot, and plays a flawless straight man for the antic Teller.
Nobody is going to confuse 21 and Over for The Hangover, or even American Pie, but it’s far from terrible. There is a really funny plot twist involving a sorority getting revenge on Miller and Casey that the filmmakers don’t shy away from making amusingly uncomfortable for an audience they know will be full of “bros,” while Astin’s genuine charisma keeps the movie from becoming unlikeable. Lucas and Moore may have some talent behind the camera, but as screenwriters they could use a little inspiration. leave a comment --Perry Seibert