‘21 and Over’ a cruder ‘Hangover’
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 22:03
The latest cashgrab party film trying to latch onto the success of “The Hangover,” “21 and Over” is a lecherous bar crawl across yet another of Hollywood’s famously false depictions of college life. Loud, boisterous and sometimes cruel, taken at face value the film’s a dire collection of gross-out, juvenile humor that’ll lead yet another class of graduating high schoolers into poor decisions.
At the same time, the film does acquit itself somewhat; while it gives a false, inflated picture of college and college parties, it does capture the uncertainty and fear that growing older and graduation hold, especially during senior year. Even though its characters are mean, crude and frequently criminal, at the very least the motivation for their idiotic antics is grounded in a realistic and emotional core.
In the movie, Miller, played by Miles Teller (a 25-year-old playing a 21-year-old), along with high school friend Casey (25-year-old Skylar Astin), show up at a fictional massive college campus where their friend Jeff Chang (31-year-old Justin Chon) is turning 21. Jeff’s strict father (played by Francois Chau, famous as Dr. Chang from “Lost”) has lined up a medical school interview for Jeff the next morning, but thanks to Miller, the three run around campus all night inebriated, trying desperately to right the night’s wrongs and instead digging themselves into a deeper hole.
The main problem with “21 and Over” is that one of its three main characters, Miller, is absolutely unlikable. He serves as a poor man’s Adam Demamp from “Workaholics,” the energetic partier, except that he lacks Adam’s puppy-dog likability. He’s boorish, racist and mean with few positive flaws, he’s the one guy at the party everyone secretly hates. Watching his actions was a painful experience throughout much of the film, as he strong-arms other characters into incredibly stupid decisions. Miller makes his friends break-and-enter into a sorority, sexually exploits two blindfolded pledges, throws Jeff off multiple buildings, incites a riot at a pep rally, steals a cheerleader’s phone at gunpoint and carjacks the same guy and drunkenly drives his truck through campus before launching it off an embankment, destroying it. If an average person tried to re-enact this film, they’d probably rack up a 10-year jail sentence.
The film’s script takes on all comers in regards to religion and race. The problem, of course, is their jokes all come out of the mouths of white characters at the expense of minorities. The sorority they break into? It’s for Latin-American students, who are referred to by all-encompassing, occasionally offensive names. Worse are the Asian jokes, as the film seems to feel that just because one of its characters is Asian, it can disparage the entire Asian community. Guys give each other ridiculous nicknames in high school, but there are no other Jeffs here. The film never calls Jeff Chang simply “Jeff,” attaching his race to the proceedings at all times by forcibly including his last name. No nationality from Asia is safe; when the jokes come, they’re rapid-fire, mean-spirited and sometimes xenophobic. Other students from different countries are discriminated against just as much, making its protagonists look like entitled, white jackasses. I’ll admit that college kids are idiots sometimes, myself included, but “21 and Over” crosses the line ten times over.
More damning, crossing the line rarely leads to good jokes. The film’s best laughs come from situational riffs and one-liners more than the ridiculous setpieces, meaning the film’s highest-concept moments are also its weakest. For less discriminating fans of crude comedy, the film’s got laughs. More discerning ones will still laugh, but when “21 and Over” leans too hard on crude and low-level comedy, the good jokes are more subtle.
As the film progresses, though, it does explain the reasons why its main characters act out so maliciously, as it recognizes college’s role as the last defense for young twenty-somethings against adulthood. Miller couldn’t get into a great college and as a result was so bored at his smaller school that he dropped out. Casey’s got a great internship lined up in New York (which the movie somehow treats as a negative thing), but can’t stop listening to the little voice in his head telling him to do what he wants now before he regrets it. Jeff’s overbearing dad brings so much stress into his life, forcing him into a career he doesn’t want, that his school’s student health services have him on suicide watch. For all of their brash, outlandish and awful conduct, at the end of the day the characters are relatable because they’re just as worried about their futures as every other college kid. They’re perfect representations of our generation: loud, stupid, self-centered and scared, which is why they’re lashing out. So while “21 and Over” mostly fails, it knows that deep down, we all just want to chill with our friends at a music festival for a few days more than anything else.