Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Movie Review: 21 And Over

Reviewing raunchy teen comedies is a difficult thing to do. On the one hand, they're clearly not "good" movies. But on the other hand, I'm a firm believer in rewarding projects for meeting their objectives, whatever those objectives may be.

The simple reality of life is that not every movie can be, or should try to be, Citizen Cane. I thought Amour was spectacular, but after two hours of literally watching a woman die, slowly, before your eyes, a marathon of the Transporter franchise sounds like a warm blanket.

After sitting through 21 And Over, the latest entry from the post-Hangover "one-crazy-night" genre, I find myself a little at a loss for words. My expectations were exceeded and I was admittedly entertained...but I would never watch this film again and, frankly, could have gone for about 30 minutes less male nudity, projectile vomiting and screwball shenanigans. As such, I'm going to write this review a little differently.

The plot: High school best friends Miller, Casey and Jeff Chang (always referred to by first and last name, a funny albeit racially insensitive gag) reunite for Jeff Chang's 21st birthday, which happens to fall on the eve of Jeff's uber-important med school interview. Upon the insistence of Miller (Footloose's Miles Teller, who prattles incessantly like a bad Vince Vaughn impression), the boys ignore the stern warnings of Jeff's father, deciding to go out on the town with the idea that they'll take it easy and get home early so Jeff can rest up for the big interview in the morning.

The inevitable occurs with Jeff Chang getting blackout wasted after a balls-to-the-wall bar crawl that fills up ACT I and makes for the least interesting portion of the film. Strangers in town, Miller and Casey have to then find their way back to Jeff's house, providing the MacGuffin for the movie and setting up the steady stream of escalating hi-jinx that ensue.

The good: Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) keeps the show grounded as the likeable straight-man Casey. On paper he's a combination of college-age cliche's (the too-mature, never-has-any-fun-anymore business major, or essentially Breckin Meyer's character from Rat Race) but Astin's delivery of the movie's best dialogue and the sincerity he brings to the completely nonsensical pratfalls the characters find themselves in is fun to watch. Conversely, Miles Teller simply never stops talking and so in the process manages to land on a few genuine laughs. Throw enough mud on the wall, some of it sticks.

The movie employs a nice blend of absurd college fantasy and practical relatability. The story gets mired for a while in a Sorority house ("Gee," you say to yourself, "no one's ever thought of doing that before!") but moments later makes up for it with a late-night pep rally that involves, among other things, a wild Buffalo getting lose and later an all-night rager where our two heroes have to compete in a series of drunk idiot party games to advance up the "Tower of Power."

The Bad: For a movie about a long night of drunk debauchery, 21 And Over actually over-extends itself with a number of unnecessary and, at times, tonally dissonant subplots. I'll give them 10 minutes to address that the three friends have drifted apart over the years, but oh wait, Jeff Chang is overstressed and dealing with mental health issues and oh wait, we need to reconcile Ferris Bueller-style with Jeff Chang's stern father, but oh wait, Miller is a college dropout who needs to wake up and take some responsibility, but oh wait, Casey is too responsible and just needs to chill out, and wait, there's a love interest (natch). I get that all the pieces fit with a group of mid-20s millenials, but do we have to resolve every problem in these guys' lives in one keg-standing night?

The big light-bulb resolution in ACT III is also overly lazy and convenient as the writers go for the same "It was there the whole time!" twist of The Hangover, only to a considerably less amusing and plausible result. Sara Wright, as the resident and obligatory crush is a pretty face, sure, but it's hard to characterize her dry line-reading as "acting".  Also Jonathan Keltz, as male cheerleader and romantic rival Randy, turns in a quirky villain with a pair of dimwitted cronies, but every time he appears on screen I found myself wishing I was watching Fired Up!'s Dr. Rick instead.

Unavoidable Comparisons: 21 and Over is less than The Hangover but greater than The Hangover Part 2. It's less than American Pie but greater than AP's straight-to-DVD sequels. It's far inferior to the 90's opus Can't Hardly Wait but also far superior to last year's abysmal Project X.

Grade: B

*21 And Over opens wide in theaters on March 1

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