(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on February 28, 2013.)
Going into a movie like 21 and Over, which has been hyped as being from the writers of The Hangover, it’s obvious that you’re not going in to see a substance abuse movie like Leaving Las Vegas or Permanent Midnight. You’re there to see people acting like idiots and getting up to all kinds of shenanigans you probably could never imagine yourself getting into. 21 and Over delivers on that promise, and actually winds up being more of a serious movie than people think it’s going to be – it’s a more of a movie about societal, familial, and educational pressure.
Of course, it’s all wrapped up in a story about how Casey (Skyler Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) take their best friend Jeff Chang (“JeffChang” according to the credits, played by Justin Chon) out for an epic night of debauchery and tomfoolery for JeffChang’s 21st birthday. We’ve all been there – and if you haven’t, you will be – where our friends ply us with alcohol in the American ritual of getting extremely intoxicated on the night you turn the legal drinking age. However, this night holds a few surprises, mostly concerning the trio’s friendship. Best friends since high school, they all seem to have turned a corner in their lives – they’re no longer the people they thought they were. Throughout the night, we find out more and more about the trio and why they’ve grown so far apart, even though they claim to be the best friends that they thought they were.
Miller is much of the accelerant to the night’s explosiveness, constantly crossing the line with a loud mouth and a devil-may-care approach to everything. Originally starting out as a booze-soaked, vomit-flying, college town bar crawl where JeffChang (seriously, no one ever calls him just “Jeff” in this movie) winds up blacked out and incoherent, the night soon flies into total chaos, involving a Latina sorority, university cheerleaders, some crazy guy dancing around wearing an Indian headdress, a gun, and a buffalo. Miller propels the group from tumultuous setting to more tumult, with much of his antics resulting in serious (and scarring) repercussions.
Teller, Astin, and Chon make this movie funny and endearing amidst the pandemonium. As Miller, Teller drives this character over the edge with his hard-partying, brash sense of humor. Like I said, he’s the reason why this night devolves into as much anarchy as it does, and you believe every second of him as he takes the trio into the next hell that waits for them. The film’s central character, played very well by Justin Chon, personifies the darker end of the spectrum, with secrets and skeletons in his closet that make more sense as they come to light. And even though he doesn’t have much to do but play a Wall Street-bound dork, Astin provides the conscience that was sorely lacking in last year’s Project X, another movie about the more dangerous side of partying.
If you go into this movie expecting extreme hilarity, you’re in the wrong theater. Likewise, if you go into this movie expecting a totally serious look at alcohol-addled youth, you’re still mistaken. Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have made 21 and Over not your run-of-the-mill gross-out comedy; in adding certain plot points, they move the film into a middle ground where the friendships take center stage. The circumstances and outrageous behavior are merely speed bumps on this trio’s night of finding out exactly where they stand with each other. It’s not the best movie in the world, and it’s almost easily forgotten; however, for its near-90-minute length, 21 and Over isn’t such a bad way to spend a Saturday night. In fact, you may find yourself enjoying it and laughing heartily before the film’s over.
FINAL GRADE: B-