Hey Dudes. Guess what? Drinking booze…totally awesome. Hot babes? Even better. And did I mention the importance of bros? Cause their pretty sweet too. Yep, the immature sex comedy is alive and well. If you thought last year’s Project X was a disgusting waste of celluloid (sorry, I meant hard drive space) dedicated to honoring outdated adolescent fantasies, well you ain’t seen nothing yet. At least Project X had the minor involvement of Todd Phillips who knows how to pace and structure a movie. 21 And Over is the directorial debut of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore who wrote the screenplay for The Hangover before it was rewritten by Phillips and who weren’t even invited back to work on either sequel. Watching their directorial debut, it’s easy to see why. Lucas and Moore clearly know the formula of a rowdy sex comedy, but creating a credible world or relatable characters completely alludes them. Aside from a handful of amusing moments and an admittedly well chosen lead cast, this goof off drinking comedy is a waste of time, effort, and dick jokes.
In case somehow the plot of the movie appeals to you, here we go. Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) are best buds. Or at least they were in high school. Now Casey is like super uptight and about to become an accountant. Meanwhile Miller dropped out of school just so he can focus all of his time partying and cracking wise. They reunite to visit their buddy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on his 21st birthday to get him good n’ legal drunk. There’s only one problem. Jeff has a hardcore Asian stereotype father who hates his son’s partying buds and set Jeff up with a medical school interview first thing the next morning. Of course that’s not going to stop Casey and Miller, so after minimal persuading they head out for a wild night of drinking. Jeff quickly gets too drunk to stand and can’t tell them how to get back to his place. So the flick turns into a nightlong adventure as the trio bumbles through a college campus, make enemies with jocks, win drinking games, find a girl (Sarah Wright) for the uptight Casey and find life motivation for the slacker Miller. You know, just like those nights everyone actually has in college filled with revelation and bro-downs. Plus Miller cracks a bunch of jokes along the way, because that guy is insatiable!
The saddest thing about watching a movie like 21 and Over is seeing just how little the college comedy has changed since John Landis flung Animal House onto screens. The three central characters here are essentially Otter, Boon, and Bluto, only at least Landis had enough of a sense of comedic anarchy to realize he didn’t have to force life changes onto his living cartoons. The missing link between Animal House and 21 and Over is, of course Todd Phillips, who made that character trio his own in Road Trip, Old School, and The Hangover. Those three films might as well be the ongoing journey of the same protagonists and while he does allow his characters to go through small growths and victories that brought us to this place, it’s nothing like the weirdly sentimental claptrap Lucas and Moore whipped up. When you have a movie featuring a college professor on acid dressed like a Native American, there’s really no way to make the audience invest in whether or not Casey will get that pretty girl who he seems to have so much in common with or whether or not Miller will clean up his life. Even though most high school and college types fit into personality clichés exploited by Hollywood, no one actually behaves like the characters in this movie and it’s hard to imagine anyone identifying with them enough for emotional investment. When a suicide subplot slips in during the third act, it feels like an act of desperate filmmakers convinced they can somehow wring serious drama out of a movie that gets most of it’s laughs out of how many variations of the word “cockgobbler” they can create. Given how sadly common college suicide is, that element just feels exploitative.
Now, I can’t pretend 21 and Over is the worst comedy ever made or even the worst drunken college comedy (there are far too many direct-to-dvd American Pie sequels for that). Admittedly, the cast is pretty good. Miles Teller might not have the best lines to deliver, but he does his Vince Vaughn/Stifler light act well and even manages to come off as a distinct character from those obvious influences. Even though he’s passed out for most of the movie, Justin Chon is just as strong as the wild n’ crazy drunk of the group and contributes some funny physical business (most of which he does dressed only in a teddy bear). As for Skylar Astin, at least his straight man act isn’t painfully boring. Lucas and Moore do come up with a few amusingly surreal side characters as well, like a strange, violent n’ homoerotic pep rally squad and a Latin sorority that borders on a gothic cult. However, don’t expect more than a handful of laughs out of all those elements combined. The movie simply treads through all the drunken college comedy clichés and the jokes just aren’t as funny the 800th time. I suppose the benefit of working in this genre is that for the target audience this will be their first college comedy and all the zany antics will seem somewhat fresh (especially given all of the substances in their system while watching). That’s a get of jail free card that the filmmakers are banking on and I’m sure we’ll get em’ some cash. However, the folks who have been down this road many times before can’t let them get away with it. The college drinking movie might not exactly be the most reputable genre out there, but the standard should at least be higher than this.