Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writing and directing team behind “21 & Over,” have staked their claim in Hollywood making a very specific type of film — the booze-fueled buddy flick. In the last four years, the duo has penned both “Hangover” films, “The Change-Up” and they’re making their directorial debut with “21 & Over,” a derivative and predictable cruise through familiar territory kept afloat by a game, engaging cast.
Old friends Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) spring a surprise visit on third musketeer Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on the day of a major milestone in his, and any other college student’s, life — his 21st birthday. Despite an important interview the next morning, Jeff agrees to go out after some extensive threatening from Miller. A few beers and a few dozen shots later, he’s unconscious and his buddies have no idea where he lives.
As Miller and Casey proceed to stumble through a wide range of mishaps, they begin to unravel a dark mystery surrounding the lightweight Jeff, whose comatose body they spend most of the film lugging around. “21 & Over” suggests that their friend has been hiding some big secrets, but it’s most interesting when it brings out underlying tensions in Miller and Casey’s friendship.
Lucas and Moore have touched on the struggles of male camaraderie before, not to mention threaded something of a mystery through their boozy narrative, in the “Hangover” films. However, they manage to get to some fresh and touching truths about the ways college can reshape friendships formed in grade school, much of it sold on the undeniable charm of Teller and Astin.
Astin is easily the bigger name of the two, and he’s been funny in “Pitch Perfect” and an episode of “Girls.” Here, he’s a straight man more than anything, but his jokes land well and his chemistry with co-lead Teller drives much of the film’s middle section. Miller is a raging jackass of a character, on a crash course to offending practically everyone he meets. Teller attacks every joke with tangible charm and infectious enthusiasm, taking the stereotypical, lovable screw-up and turning him into something much more soulful and engaging.
Even though “21 & Over” manages to hit some effective notes, it’s fairly predictable throughout, and it’s not difficult to get a few steps ahead of the characters in their quest to figure out their friend’s address. Even the most intriguing material, the secrets that Miller and Casey learn about Jeff throughout the evening, ends up sputtering out without really paying off. “21 & Over” can only end one way, and its final moments fully embody every uninspired beat a savvy watcher would expect, dragged across the finish line by the charisma of its cast.
The theme of “21 & Over” has been done before in other films, often in a much funnier way. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, and many of its best moments work thanks to Teller’s hilarious and compelling performance. Lucas and Moore have certainly figured out their storytelling niche, but their increasingly generic work is getting harder and harder to recommend.
Published on March 1, 2013 as "Movie proves to be just another bro flick".