It’s not entirely creative enough to really merit a long winded defence or detraction, but the university based comedy 21 and Over has just enough funny moment to make the film’s core demographic cackle with glee over and over again over its economic 90 minute running time. It could easily dismissed as all being “a bit too much” in terms of its penchant for sometimes highly questionable gags, but some serviceable performances and just enough character depth make this one better than it could have been and probably better than it deserves to be.
On the verge of graduating university somewhere out on the west coast, the straight laced future professional Casey (Skylar Astin) meets up with his slovenly college attending BFF Miller (Miles Teller) to celebrate the 21st birthday of their estranged mutual buddy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon). The next day Jeff has his entrance interview to med school that he’s being forced into by his overbearing and frightening father, but as these things tend to go, Jeff gets blackout drunk to the point of being useless and Casey and Miller have to go through a series of misadventures to determine where Jeff lives. Some of them involve breaking into sorority houses, male cheerleaders, a rampaging buffalo, and the eating of an (unused) tampon.
Writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore hew a bit too closely to the bro-medy playbook in terms of how their gags can easily straddle the line between being misogynist and homophobic in the early going, but the long term misanthropy of the two best gags in the film hinge on subverting audience expectations when it comes to the frat-like moral imperative in play. Lucas and Moore find more creative ways to reflect a bro-bias than resorting to “colourful” words and phrases, but the intent will still be bound to rub some people the wrong way.
21 and Over is pure cartoonish nonsense like The Hangover or Project X, but there’s a bit more heart and depth to the proceedings than the “we need to get from point A to point B” gimmick. Lucas and Moore don’t create easily digestible punchlines (like Hangover, where there might as well be a pause in the soundtrack for the audience to giggle) or faux realism that gives license to profanity (the one thing that soured me slightly on the otherwise misunderstood Project X). The three leads in the film could all credibly be looked at like they’re the best of friends with a shared history. The dialogue feels natural, unforced, and just wonky enough to be believably adolescent in tone.
A more appropriate point of comparison for Lucas and Moore’s film might be Weekend at Bernie’s considering how much of the running time is spent watching Casey and Miller tote around Jeff’s almost lifeless body. Astin fills the role of the straight man nicely and his romantic subplot with a soon to be leaving co-ed (Sarah Wright) with a chronically enraged agro boyfriend (Jonathan Keltz, who gets followed by a pair of literal cheerleaders that get the film’s biggest belly laughs) doesn’t really take away momentum from the little story at hand. Teller (who also popped up briefly in Project X) does a nice riff on Vince Vaughn’s patented brand of boorishness, but with a little more depth and a lot less effort when it comes to turning a phrase. The pairing of the two is inspired and makes everything around them a bit sturdier around them when the film begins to stumble. They look and act like the kind of people we might have known at such a formative age. It doesn’t mean we have to like them as characters, but at least they aren’t outright caricatures.
There’s no mistaking that 21 and Over is a gross out comedy aimed squarely at a crowd younger than the title would suggest. People really a year or two older than the film’s demographic probably won’t get too much mileage out of it, but by the terms dictated by its sometimes loathsome genre, 21 and Over manages to eke out a recommendation no matter how slight. It sort of defies review since it’s not the kind of thing that anyone thinking of seeing it would read a critique of it, but for all two of you who read this far, the movie is pretty alright.
Cast: Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin
Directed by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Top image: A scene from 21 and Over. Courtesy Alliance Films.