The film works because the actors are likable, the script is funny, and the movie never tries to be anything it’s not.
“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” That pretty much sums up the night-from-hell adventure at the center of 21 and Over, the directing debut of The Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. In the grand tradition of “one crazy night” films like After Hours and Adventures in Babysitting, 21 and Over overflows with more action and plot than could possibly happen between sunset and sunrise, but we go along for the ride anyway. Why? Because the characters are entertaining and there’s plenty of mindless comedy. 21 and Over gives the audience permission to check their brains at the door and just have fun for 90 minutes.
Miller (Miles Teller), Casey (Skylar Astin), and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) have been best friends since childhood. When college came around, though, the three went their separate ways and have seen each other less and less frequently over the last four years. That all changes when Miller and Casey surprise Jeff Chang at college to take him out to celebrate his 21st birthday. The problem is Jeff Chang has his interview for med school the following morning, which his very intimidating and overbearing father (Francois Chau) has set up for him.
Miller and Casey promise to have Jeff Chang home early, but that plan is derailed rather quickly when Jeff Chang begins drinking like Prohibition is coming back. Meanwhile, Casey has his attention on Nicole (Sarah Wright), a free-spirited classmate of Jeff Chang’s who makes his well-planned future seem lame. The guys start hopping from bar to bar, and soon Jeff Chang is so intoxicated he can’t formulate a full sentence. Miller and Casey have no idea where Jeff Chang lives, so they begin stumbling around campus in hopes of finding someone who can help them get their friend home before his father shows up the next morning.
21 and Over works because the actors are likable, the script is funny, and the movie never tries to be anything it’s not. Lucas and Moore struggle as first-time directors, but not in any way that will be noticeable to mainstream audiences who expect to see nothing more than a bunch of drunken hijinks. During the film’s action set pieces, Lucas and Moore are lax with coverage and are never quite sure where to point the camera. They pace the film well, however, limiting the number of montages to an acceptable amount.
The script manages to make us believe the three friends really have been close for years, mainly because they all share the same manner of speech. The actors are all very well cast. Teller does his best Vince Vaughn impression from the start and, though he’s clearly charismatic and funny, the derivative nature becomes grating. Astin plays the Jason Bateman straight man character, never really challenging himself or the audience’s expectations. Of the three, Chon is the most entertaining and the reason people will see the movie more than once. Even though his character is unconscious for most of the run time, Chon has some of the movie’s best moments because of his commitment to the insanity.
Like The Hangover, 21 and Over is aimed at a certain audience who just wants to be amused. The movie doesn’t fully commit to its own mayhem like Project X (one of the most fun movies in years), but it does provide solid comedic moments throughout. While some of the more serious subplots drag the momentum down, Lucas and Moore deserve credit for trying to add some weight to their writing. Regardless, 21 and Over is a decent escapist piece of popcorn filmmaking to help us recover from the heavy season of Oscar campaigning. | Matthew Newlin