Remember The Hangover? That 2009 movie about some guys who have a crazy drunken night and then have to get their friend to a place that he’s supposed to be the next day? Well, if you want to see those same plot elements again, except less funny and a bit raunchier, then 21 And Over is the movie for you.
I hate to start this review by comparing the new film written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore to the drunken Vegas story that is arguably their most loved, but when it comes to 21 And Over, it’s unavoidable. Unfortunately, despite following the same pattern as The Hangover, this coming-of-drinking-age story is heavy on unlikable characters and light on the laughs, and that combination makes for something that’s hard to sit through and even harder to recommend.
Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) has always been a good student on the path to becoming a doctor, but when his high school friends Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) show up on the night of his 21st birthday to take him out for some drunken celebration, one drink turns into much more. Eventually, he becomes a blacked-out zombie, and his friends run into all sorts of trouble in their efforts to get him home before he misses his med-school interview early the next morning.
The first character of the three we meet is Miller, and within the first seconds of the film he is absolutely impossible to like. His vulgar language and brazen personality are likely meant to portray how he’s more interested in having a good time than what others think of him, but in reality it just makes him a vile character with no redeeming traits, a combination which simply doesn’t work for a film’s lead, especially when absolutely no character growth is shown. How we’re supposed to believe for even a second that this kid aced his SATs or would be extremely successful if he wasn’t so lazy is beyond me.
Jeff Chang isn’t so abrasive, but rather is submissive until he gets a few drinks in himself. Once the booze starts flowing, he turns into the most unlikable character of the whole bunch. Chon’s acting isn’t horrible when he’s conscious, but instead we get a comatose character who can do nothing more than mumble and grunt. But then again, at least when he’s grunting we don’t have to hear more terribly written lines.
The banter between Casey and Miller is delivered as if it’s supposed to be hilariously witty, but in reality it’s so poorly written that it seems less like they’re best friends and more like they’re meeting for the first time on an awkward blind date. The two never are believable as friends, so it makes their falling out even less of an issue than it would’ve been anyway. There’s never a sense of camaraderie shown between any of the three, nor does it ever feel like these characters actually like each other. They’re jerks to everyone they run into, but most of all, they’re jerks to each other. It’s hard to tell how much the complete lack of chemistry between the leads is the fault of the actors, but it’s clear that the story and script they’re working with doesn’t do them any favors.
The moments that are clearly supposed to be the funniest end up being the most cringe-worthy in such a way that it’s hard not to fast forward through those scenes. The drawn out slow-motion vomit scene is terrible, how it made it out of the editing room in that state is baffling, but it’s not as bad as the scene where Jeff Chang climbs on the bar to take a leak on the patrons who’ve gathered around. If I wasn’t reviewing the movie, and didn’t have a vow to never stop watching before a movie is over, it’s likely I would’ve turned it off right there. Bodily fluid jokes just aren’t funny. When delivered by Chon, they’re almost offensive to watch.
The worst part is when it comes to the “moral” of this story. Jeff Chang shows his growth by basically telling his dad to take all the help he’s given him and shove it where the sun don’t shine. Instead of having a perhaps cliche, but at least respectable ending, where Jeff is able to tell his father how he really feels, we get one of our main characters punching a friend’s father in the face for no apparent reason and, even worse, being praised for it.
Perhaps the film struggles due to the inexperience of Lucas and Moore as a directorial team. This is the first feature either has directed, and that fact is glaringly obvious. The pacing is awkward with pointless scenes dragging on far too long, while scenes with potential are cut frustratingly short. There’s barely any consistency in terms of supporting characters as they come and go only at the plot’s convenience. But worst of all, it just isn’t funny. Perhaps their writing is better delivered through a director who provides a fresh sense of humor. Someone else to say what in the script is actually funny. Without that middleman between the script and the screen, the laughs are few and far between.
I could go on and on detailing all the flaws with this film and the reasons why it fails as a comedy, but just know this: there is absolutely nothing new to be found here. It’s simply a rehashing of the successful comedies that’ve been made for years. And that could be okay, if it was done differently. If a movie took all the best played-out elements of past comedies and combined them, there’d likely be laughs found. But instead, 21 And Over is simply a combination of a bunch of mediocre, played-out elements, and the result is a complete comedic failure.
In terms of special features, there are a couple of featurettes, Levels of Intoxication and Tower of Power, that may be interesting for fans of the film but were really rather dull, and a gag reel with some outtakes that aren’t all that funny. Certainly nothing that improves upon the actual movie.
The 1080p AVC video is a very solid transfer. All the colors pop on the screen, and the crispness of the footage means nothing is lost, even in the night scenes which make up the majority of the movie. The sound mix is adequate, with clear and audible sound coming through on all channels. The center channel is used the most by far, but that’s to be expect with this sort of comedy.
A comedy without laughs almost always means a comedy that’s not worth watching. 21 And Over does nothing to stand out or be original in anyway. The predictable story and the unlikable characters combine to make a very unpleasant film.