21 & Over, the directorial debut from Hangover writing duo Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, is a very odd movie to watch with adult eyes. You can see what it’s trying to do, and some of it works pretty well, but the scattergun approach to humour that the Hangover franchise has crafted into its own artform takes on an unexpected discomfort when combined with this unrelenting, juvenile humour young audiences are supposed to enjoy. 21 & Over will no doubt spark the kind of weary discussion that last year’s Project X did – and the conclusion will deduce that under-20s deserve better from their targeted comedies.
The film follows a trio of high schools friends, Miller (Miles Teller), Casey (Skylar Astin) and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) who have grown apart since leaving for college some years previously. Casey is the driven, sensible one destined for the financial world, Miller is the wild card who has, unbeknownst to his friends, dropped out of school altogether, and Jeff Chang is the latest in a long line of doctors – the only trouble is, he’s flunking science and is too scared to tell his overbearing father (Lost’s Francois Chau).
But Jeff Chang is turning 21, and his two oldest friends have shown up to surprise him. Despite his life-altering medical school interview taking place in the morning, he agrees to celebrate his birthday, and you can guess what happens next. The night out itself is a big success but, as Jeff Chang passes out from excessive partying, Miller and Casey must find out where he lives so as to get him changed, showered and ready for his interview before his father finds out what happened. Thus follows a mad dash around campus, where hilarity, in theory, ensues.
The reunion of three old friends who don’t have much in common anymore is the best thing about the film, and it’s a shame that more isn’t made of this fairly universal theme. It’s there all the way through, especially when various secrets start spilling out and some mysteries regarding Jeff Chang’s troubles are uncovered, but the gross-out gags were obviously deemed more engaging while cobbling the film together. The performances, too, are good, and there’s a sense that these three young leads will be doing exciting things after their teen-comedy rite of passage is through (Teller was in Footloose, Casey in Pitch Perfect, and Chon in Twilight).
So why should we hate this film? Well, it’s incredibly lazy with its humour – usually the most important thing in a comedy. The sheer amount of racism, homophobia, sexism and other boring stereotypes isn’t so much offensive as it is tedious, since we’ve seen so many of these horribly witless movies that they’ve almost lost their ability to shock. My problem is how unfunny the whole thing is, with a running gag about an angry, vengeful Latina sorority going on for so long that it completely derails the film to the extent that anything positive going on is ignored.
The shenanigans Miller and Casey must go through to find out Jeff Chang’s home address don’t have to be realistic, as such, but some semblance to reality has to intrude on the madness somewhere. One of the big problems with 21 & Over is how much it feels like a watered-down Hangover movie, with none of the adult problems that come with reckless behaviour like this ever crossing with the characters’ responsibility-free existences. In the end, the whole ordeal was a big waste of time and, while this pseudo happy ending might wash with high school-age viewers, anyone older knows better.
Maybe I’m a huge cynic without a sense of humour, but I can tell you that there’s a better version of this movie already out there – The Inbetweeners Movie. The difference, while both make good use of crude gags and borderline-offensive humour, is that 21 & Over has none of the warmth required to anchor the jokes to something solid or relatable.
The first half of the movie does produce a few sporadic titters, and the performances make the characters vaguely likeable throughout, but the relentlessly thoughtless attitude towards anyone not a young, white male without ambition is likely to prove draining for audiences over the age of 14.
21 & Over is out in UK cinemas now.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.