“21 and Over,” a comedy so stupid it would have to double its IQ to be considered brain-dead, is essentially a version of “The Hangover” for teens. This makes sense when one looks at the credits, as the film was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the screenwriters of “The Hangover.” Here, one is put in the baffling position of longing for the auteurial graces of Todd Phillips.
Like “The Hangover,” “21 and Over” concerns a group of men solving a mystery stemming from a night of substance-fueled antics. But unlike “The Hangover,” this film actually occurs during the mayhem itself, not the aftermath, which has the undesirable effect of pushing the audience’s suspension of disbelief well past even a charitable breaking point, rendering the supposedly outrageous occurrences merely stupid.
Further proving that filmmakers Lucas and Moore are only out to repeat “The Hangover”‘s formula and not its successes, the three main characters in “21 and Over” are not fleshed-out representations of men in varied states of adult crisis, but stereotypical jerk offs whose ailments are recycled from hundreds of earlier films.
“21 and Over” follows buffoons Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller, a sort of poor man’s Shia LaBeouf), as they drag their friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) out of the house to celebrate his 21st birthday. Characterization doesn’t go very deep; Casey has a job lined up after college, which is the idiot filmmakers’ way of labeling him square. Miller has a last name instead of a first, which by teen movie law dictates that he must be an insufferable prick (one popular teen series, “American Pie,” did this with Seann William Scott’s Stiffler, but those films had the wisdom to understand that people generally don’t care much for obnoxious, oversexed twerps). Jeff, as his oft-repeated last name implies, is of Chinese descent, which the movie mines for comedic fool’s gold with countless jokes about his supposed genetic acumen for hard work and science.
Surely, one would be ill-advised to watch this sort of ode to partying with realism in mind, but Lucas and Moore abuse the privileges afforded to them by the genre. The majority of the action is set in the early a.m. hours on a weekday after a night of bar-crawling, but the college town is bustling with pep rallies and elaborate parties. Despite thousands of students, the characters repeatedly run into the same handful of people. In one scene, Jeff climbs onto a bar and urinates into the crowd, the sort of thing that would get one mauled to death at a gathering of Buddhist monks but barely raises an eyebrow here. And the central dilemma, in contrast to the urgent search-and-rescue mission of “The Hangover,” is… finding Jeff’s address to get him home. Really, no one is going to say that Lucas and Moore put much effort into this script.
The film demonstrates two basic kinds of jokes: setups and extreme gross-outs. Ideas are frequently set up and then lead nowhere. A trip to a sorority house culminates in a sexual assault that’s intended to be hilarious, but with no amusing resolution. An epic drinking game tournament results in a dull encounter with a deranged RA. Two of the men wind up naked except for a sock, but their lack of humiliation diffuses any potential comic effect. The filmmakers have ideas, but are clueless as to making them payoff.
Alternatively, there are shots that include Jeff vomiting on a mechanical bull while the camera lovingly documents the mid-air puke, Jeff consuming a (clean) tampon, and Jeff enduring what amounts to an impromptu circumcision (I’m hard-pressed to think any film I’ve ever seen that requires its leads to humiliate themselves to such a macabre extent). These disgusting moments will score shock laughs from some, but are bereft of the kind of wit that could make them rewarding in a better movie.
The most complimentary thing one could say about “21 and Over” is that there’s something to offend everyone’s good sensibilities. It’s misanthropic, racist, homophobic, and pretty much any other kind of negative political label one can apply these days. But most offensive of all is, that unlike “The Hangover,” “21 and Over” isn’t funny. Ever.