Cobbling together a new narrative from run-off from The Hangover mixed with clumps of Old School and Weekend at Bernie’s, 21 and Over would be a new low for teen gross-out comedy if Project X hadn’t already licked that particular floor. Drunken mayhem, awkward sexual encounters and jokes about race, mental health and homosexuality are hardly new, and they’ve rarely been performed with such commercialist laziness.
To celebrate his coming of legal age, Jeff Chang’s (Justin Chon) two oldest school friends Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) pay him a surprise visit at his college to show him the night of his life. Unfortunately the overworked med student has that all-important job interview the next morning and a very scary dad who arranged it for him, so the pals’ visit was in vain. Ah sure, they can go out for just the one, can’t they?
A few bars later and Jeff Chang is passed out and Casey and Miller have no idea how to get him home. Casey falls madly in love with the first girl he meets, Nicole (Sarah Wright), but in a collision of clichés so ferocious it could reveal the Higgs boson, she is both leaving for South America the next morning and dating a jerk jock. Jeff Chang ends up dressed in women’s underwear with rude words written on his face, while Casey and Miller must escape a fearsome Latina sorority while playing drinking games to find out where Jeff Chang lives (you can stop even trying to make sense of this now).
So many moments in 21 and Over reveal the writers’ ability for comic set-ups, from a buffalo stampede at a pep rally to the heroes’ theft of a golf cart, but filmmakers Lucas and Moore repeatedly show their inability to execute their own gags. Jeff Chang gets so drunk he climbs up on a bar and pees on it; later he rides a bucking bronco and vomits in bullet time. The ideas are there, but there’s no humour built into them other than what they are, which it turns out is just nasty. Your enjoyment of this film will be directly correlated to how funny you find the idea of a man eating a tampon. The only truly strong gross-out laugh in the whole movie comes in the third act with an accidental circumcision, but it far too little far too late.
Where exactly the heart of this film lies is unclear. Jeff Chang may have just turned 21, but it’s hardly his first time blowing off steam or having a beer – he just has an I.D. for it now. The script attempts to unearth why old friends drift apart, as the leads discuss their physical and emotional distances from one another, but it’s very clear that there is no reason why these characters would ever be friends in this first place, especially as Miller fills most of his dialogue to Casey calling him ‘Jew’ and detailing what he would like to do to his sister. A surprising subplot about mental health issues invades the film halfway through, but is shed with violent immaturity as the trio of friends null the pain with alcohol and camaraderie; perhaps the worst advice ever handed down to young viewers of American movies.
Perhaps the only interesting element of this film is how Chinese money was accepted by the producers to film extra material for a Chinese cut of the film. In this version, not coming to a cinema near you any time soon, Jeff Chang is an international student who is so scandalised by American debauchery that he returns to the People’s Republic a wiser, more sober person. There’s a moral in that, something missing from every frame of the US cut of 21 and Over. At least film studies students for years to come can spend their time poring over the differences between the two versions, so someone can get something out of this film’s existence.
If you’re looking for laughs, or excitement, or character development and storytelling, you’re not just in the wrong place, but you’re in the wrong state of mind (or on the wrong substances). If you’re 21 or over, you’re too old for this crap.
16 (see IFCO website for details)
21 and Over is released on 3rd May 2013