Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: "21 & Over"

"21 & Over" is a typical college party movie, but with a little ambition, or at least finesse.

It's written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who did the screenplays for the "Hangover" movies, the first of which was actually quite clever in its story construction and character development. Imagine that crew during their college years, reveling in a wild night when one of their number turns the magical age of 21, and you've got the combination to this cinematic safe.

I can't really recommend it, but I at least appreciated some things about it. The three main characters are distinctive and played well by their actors, creating a clear presence beyond the usual spectacle of crazy guys getting wasted and making fools of themselves -- though there is indeed plenty of that. The trio all get to spend an extended amount of screen time nearly naked, with the birthday boy celebrating in a red bra and a teddy bear glued to his nethers.

Miles Teller and Skylar Astin, as lifelong friends Miller and Casey, respectively, in particular have a motor-mouthed repartee of observations and insults that is pleasantly reminiscent of the guys from "Swingers" a generation back. Their easy patter and they way they rub shoulders as they constantly put each down has an authentic vibe.

Justin Chon as Jeff Chang has less to do, since he's the newly-legal drinker who spends most of the movie passed out or altered from overindulgence, but you believe him as part of this threesome.

Incidentally, Chon is actually 10 years older than the character he's portraying, while his two co-stars are merely in their mid-20s. By Hollywood casting standards, that's about par for the course.

The plot is that Jeff Chang -- he's always referred to that way, almost as a single world "Jeffchang" -- must be ready for a medical school interview the next morning, to which he's being chaperoned by his impossibly strict father.

Alas, Miller and Casey forget where Jeff Chang lives -- even though they were just there themselves -- and he's too inebriated to tell them. So they spend the entire night wandering around the campus of fictional Northern University, stumbling into one party after another.

They encounter Nicole (Sarah Wright), a toothy blonde who finds an instant rapport with Casey, but also Randy (Jonathan Keltz), who is a male cheerleader with serious anger management issues.

Along the way they steal a truck, jump out of windows, wander into the den of an oddly masochistic sorority of Latinas, must defeat a series of drinking games to reach the tower of a mystical R.A., and similar hijinks.

There's nothing really new about "21 & Over" that we haven't already seen in "Animal House" and every other college raunch comedy going forward. But I at least appreciated the fact the cast and crew tried to keep the characters from being totally generic slaves to the debauchery.

2 stars out of four

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