The film 21 and Over is appropriately named. Not only in subject matter, but also because, like being twenty-one, it seems like it’s going to be fun and novel and full of non-stop good times until you actually experience it.
Archetypal Asian med school student with daddy issues, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), has spent the first twenty years of his life doing everything his parents wanted him to do. But when his old besties, the boyishly handsome Casey (Skylar Astin) and ganja-guru Miller (Miles Teller), show up to take him out on the town for a few birthday beers, Jeff decides to do everything he wants to for a change. What starts out as the first legal beer quickly turns into a barely legal night involving stampeding buffalos, Latina sorority cults, and acid-tripping Native American chieftains. And wouldn’t you know, Jeff has to be back in time for a wedding – I mean, a medical school interview – the following morning.
Anyone who didn’t know this was written and directed by Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore will be able to tell within the first five minutes. While the film produced a few memorable raunchy gags, including gluing a teddy bear to a character’s genitalia and the accidental mastication of a particular feminine hygiene product (yes, that happened), 21 and Over never strays from The Hangover formula. Lucas and Moore keep up a good ebb and flow of the leads stumbling through ridiculous situations, but they lose ground when it comes to the script’s more sentimental moments. We’re constantly hit over the head with the personal plights of these three amigos, yet only mildly convinced to care. To top it off, jarringly dark tonal shifts are scattered throughout and handled shoddily, putting a damper on the fun for anyone who doesn’t love a good dose of depression as a major plot point in their teen comedies.
Despite a mediocre script, the chemistry between the three brotagonists kept the comedy from blacking out. Main character Chang may be unconscious for 75% of the film, but Casey added a much-needed dose of emotion in his interactions with love-interest Sarah Wright and Miller kept things fresh with an improv style reminiscent of Workaholic’s Adam DeVine. Like most teen comedies, the film features mainly predictable and stereotypical characters, but it has enough instances of seemingly adorable Asian girls with secret anger management problems, feminist-friendly female leads, and professors who do acid recreationally to keep things from becoming overtly cliché.
Make no mistake – this is not going to be a classic like Lucas and Moore’s first drunken bro-bonding escapade, but 21 and Over does manage to get a few more laughs than what’s in theaters right now and teaches us two important lessons in the process: that we should follow our dreams, do what we want, and live our lives to the fullest. And that The Hangover formula only works once.