21 & OVER
DIRECTED BY Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
STARS Miles Teller, Skylar Astin
LEGAL AID: With a little help from his friends, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon, right) makes it a birthday to remember in 21 & Over. (Photo: Relativity Media)
It's hard to imagine anybody who's 21 and over truly getting much out of 21 & Over, but as far as these sorts of films go, this one isn't as aggressively stupid as some. It's written and directed by the same guys who penned The Hangover (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore), and I actually prefer it to that often insufferable comedy. (I know, I know: The Hangover is considered by many to be the 21st-century equivalent of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Some Like It Hot all rolled into one. So sue me for defamation.)
Of course, Lucas and Moore don't stray too far from their cinematic bread 'n' butter. As in The Hangover, the movie opens with a story-already-in-progress scene that quickly jumps to flashback mode to show how the current mess ensnaring the protagonists initially evolved. The plot also involves copious amounts of alcohol, resultant blackouts, characters in extremely compromising positions, an important engagement that might get missed and, the biggest telltale of all, a naked Asian man who's as uninhibited as Ron Jeremy when it comes to jiggling his buttocks and wiggling his willy. There's no Mike Tyson on hand, though, so at least the film has that going for it.
Miles Teller, whose subtle and sensitive emoting opposite Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole is not at all required here, and Skylar Astin, Anna Kendrick's romantic interest in last fall's Pitch Perfect, respectively play the immature Miller and the responsible Casey, two college kids who spring a surprise visit on their friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on the day of his 21st birthday. Their intent is to take him out for a night of boozing and carousing, a bad idea considering he has an important job interview at 8 the following morning. Nevertheless, Jeff Chang (his friends never call him by just his first name) finally agrees, and it's amusing to watch as he flashes his I.D. to bouncers who, as noted, previously always mistook him for an underage Asian girl. It's no surprise that the bombed Jeff Chang eventually passes out, but his two buddies have no idea where he lives. His address becomes a Holy Grail of higher education, with the guys engaging in a series of campus adventures as they try to get him home before his intimidating dad (François Chau) arrives to take him to his interview.
Despite the similarities to The Hangover, 21 & Over actually jostles even more in the direction of the sturdy Harold & Kumar franchise, a comparison that's more pronounced given the comparable ages of the characters. Yet where the writers of the H&K films managed to employ ethnic stereotypes to puncture hypocrisy and prejudice, Lucas and Moore aren't nearly as sharp when attempting to do likewise: The gags involving Jeff Chang aren't particularly funny or challenging, the inclusion of a sorority full of angry Latinas is a major miscalculation, and the writers don't even attempt to address African-Americans (not only are there no significant or supporting black characters, I'd be hard-pressed to recall if any black actors were even employed as background extras for any scenes).
Yet the movie does get some things right. The casting of Teller and Astin, both appealing performers, is crucial. Their ability to carve out specific characters ultimately provides some resonance to the more sentimental and introspective moments that appear toward the end; this in turn prevents the picture from exploding like a grenade in its own face (as often happens when this type of film develops an insincere conscience right before the fade-out). The budding romance between Casey and a sorority girl named Nicole (Sarah Wright) is unexpectedly sweet, and the thorny relationship between Jeff Chang and his father is ably handled. As for the scene involving some serious smooching between two of the male characters, while some might see it as an extension of this genre's penchant for "gay panic" humor, I'm willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and view it as an affront to homophobic louts who hypocritically see nothing wrong with lesbianism but want to smash skulls when the mere suggestion of even the most innocent guy-on-guy action is brought up. Knowing that this scene will upset frat boys is enough to justify its existence, if you ask me.