If you’ve seen a number of movies before, then you’ve basically already watched most of what 21 & OVER has to offer. Now, I’m not going to gripe about a movie like this being unoriginal or borrowing concepts from other films. It’s the simple “men behaving madly” formula that we’ve seen done plenty of times. But when you can see the whole premise of a night spiraling badly out of control done so much better, what’s the point of sitting through a half-baked comedy when that time could be spent getting more laughs from superior films of the same make and model?
If you’ve seen BACHELOR PARTY, either of THE HANGOVERs, PROJECT X, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, any of the AMERICAN PIE series, etc., then you’ve got the basic gist of what’s going on here - a bunch of dudes who desperately need to reel things in for one reason or another (a wedding, a big interview, etc.) absolutely losing all sense of self-control, setting off a chain of events so ridiculous that we’re supposed to find humor in their stupidity and misfortune. From the title alone, you can tell that this time, someone’s 21st birthday is going to be the center of the universe, with high school buddies Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin from PITCH PERFECT) making the trek to a college campus where they’re going to ring in this drunken right of passage with their old friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon). Oh, but too bad their surprise is ruined by the fact that Jeff Chang has a big important interview in the morning to try to get into med school that his stern father (LOST’s Francois Chau) pulled a lot of strings to make happen. I guess they’ll just have to save the partying for the next day, still on his 21st birthday, mind you... perhaps even right after his tough interview, when he’ll be more than ready to blow off some steam and get wild and crazy, right? Of course not... what kind of movie would that be, if it put work before play, if it acknowledged the real world dynamic of having to be responsible once you hit a certain age before you can just cut loose and do whatever kind of stupid shit you think is somehow more important? I don’t know... a better one?
It’s that ill-chosen path which 21 & OVER takes which really crippled the movie for me, because this trio does feature a bit of a moral compass. Casey is the lone voice there who suggests that maybe they shouldn’t take Jeff Chang out for a crazy night, maybe they should have one drink and then have him back at his place at a reasonable time to be prepared for his big opportunity in the morning. And yet through the scope of the film, he’s seen as a pussy or a killjoy or a party pooper, because he sees the bigger picture over a careless night of fun and shenanigans. God forbid he has an internship over Spring Break to try to get him to a place he wants to be as an adult rather than blowing money on a trip like everyone else. The one guy in the film with a future and some direction in his life is chided for thinking like an adult at the age of 21. How dare he. What a dick.
And you could say, “Well, it’s supposed to be a comedy,” and I’ve perfectly fine with that, but 21 & OVER goes out of its way to criticize and demonize the one character who seems to have his shit together, as if 21 is such a kid. I wouldn’t care so much if these were a bunch of jackass teenagers running around, acting as if their poor decisions or actions have no repercussions... but we’re talking about college-aged young men who should know better. That’s not to say they aren’t capable of stupid nights out. I had plenty of those back in my college days, but I also didn’t make it a point to insult those who weren’t engaged in that, because they were studying for a test or writing a paper or prioritizing their future over getting drunk, something they could easily do after they had fulfilled their more serious obligations.
Once all the alcohol is consumed and Jeff Chang is totally wrecked, passed out on a bench, though, it’s up to his two best buds to get him home, safe and sound... so leave it to them to not have any idea where he lives, sending them around this college town, carrying a lifeless body as if they had Bernie Lomax on their hands, searching for someone in this school of about 40,000 students that might know where this one drunk Asian guy lives. Worst plan ever. As a result, they’ll eat tampons, they’ll bring into a sorority where they essentially force two girls to get sexual with one another, they’ll be spanked, branded, chased by an angry group of Latinas, chased by angry male cheerleaders and more, in no particular order. There are a couple of laughs to be had along the way, as I can appreciate some good stupidity here and there, and I can’t help but be amused by the always strange but funny appearance of a penis that seems to stretch way beyond normalcy, but there’s really nothing groundbreaking or altogether notable here that I would recommend you go see it... not when there are better offering for you to consume either for the first time or the 500th. I guess the cute Sarah Wright is a sight for sore eyes and brings a certain likeable charm to a subplot about one of the trio chasing after her affection, but that doesn’t constitute sitting through this movie that levies heavy blows against the responsible thinking it’s the cool thing to do when it’s really not. This is a movie trying way too hard to be raunchy and edgy and not coming anywhere close to its aspirations.
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