Summer, 2009: I think my favorite comedy to date had been “Old School”. I had been a huge Todd Phillips fan since seeing a bootleg of his GG Allin doc “Hated” back in college, so naturally I expected to love “The Hangover”. Love it I did – so much so that it knocked “Old School” from the pedestal it had occupied for nearly 6 years. I dragged everyone to see the film, probably watching it myself once a week for a month and a half. It just never stopped being funny to me. Then came the numerous knockoffs, including its own lackluster sequel – which didn’t even employ the talents of the original’s writers, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. But Lucas and Moore did end up writing the irreverent, if ultimately unimpressive Ryan Reynolds vehicle “The Change-Up”. The film ultimately lost money, but apparently not enough. The scribes have now been given a chance to direct “21 & Over”, their own Phillips-less “Hangover” knockoff and you know it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The trailer is a delicious looking cocktail of comedy: 1 part “Hangover”, 1 part “Project X”, 2 parts “Weekend at Bernie’s” shaken and served neat. The reality is a little more watered down. Here’s the story in a nutshell: Best friends Miller and Casey decide to surprise their third musketeer, Jeff by showing up at his college campus for his 21st birthday. Sadly, Jeff’s very strict (and very intimidating) father, Dr. Chang, has set up a very important “Risky Business”-esque interview the next day for his son, so partying will have to wait. Miller declares this unacceptable and gives the obligatory “21 means freedom/you are now a man” speech and ultimately convinces his buddies to go out for A drink. Of course, A drink turns into many drinks and plenty of hijinx as Jeff Chang(referred to throughout the film by his full name, presumably for “comedic” purposes) passes out and his pals can’t find his dorm. Among the obstacles encountered along the way: the obvious drinking game competition, a scorned Latina sorority, angry male cheerleaders, a found gun, campus police and, of course, Mr. Chang.
Now I have to say, this type of film is an art form of sorts. You have to have a set-up in the form of a problem, have it lead to another problem, leading to another problem, which then revisits the first problem, only escalated. It’s tricky to do such a thing and not make it feel forced. That was the beauty of “The Hangover” and for the most part, Lucas and Moore succeed here. The film flows organically and the bad-luck incidents rarely feel crammed in for the sake of being there. That said, some of these said incidents are just kind of stupid and rely on forced jokes to try to be funny (see: constant Jeff Chang joke above).
This may have been helped by a more charismatic cast. Skylar Astin (Casey) is alright as the straight man, while Miles Teller (Miller) is OK as the loose cannon, but neither one is electric enough to make you feel like you’re willingly along for the ride. Take, for instance, Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy in “Weekend at Bernie’s”. Silverman is stuffy as hell and a little bit square, but you certianly could relate to his voice of reason under the particularly heinous circumstances. Andrew McCarthy was completely out of his mind and oblivious to any sense of responsibility, yet was charming enough to sort of make sense as to why he keeps the charade going. Like Silverman, the audience is willing to ride it out a little longer. Then something worse happens and Silverman (just like the audience) wants to hit the breaks on the rouse – before McCarthy talks us into digging ourselves deeper. Casey is never this voice of reason and Miller, as fast-talking as he is, is never quite magnetic enough to make us forget that a simple call to campus security might help the boys find their beds.
Sure, some points are added for beautiful women making out, with some nudity sprinkled in (absolutely necessary in a movie like this, IMO), but points are subtracted for an unbelievable 8 hour romance ending with Casey suddenly learning to be spontaneous and leaving on a flight to South America. Oh yeah, the film ends with a self-indulgent 10 minute scene of the gang dancing around at some smelly Coachella-style music fest that was probably used an excuse for the filmmakers to attend. Despite the tired script and uninspired casting, “21 & Over” is better than most of its post-”Hangover” ilk. Though, that’s kind of like saying that this fart doesn’t smell as bad as the last; both stink. If the movie were blackjack, it’d be a bust.