“21 and Over” could celebrate that magical moment when the final barrier to adulthood falls by the wayside, as the act of legally buying alcohol instantly goes from forbidden to routine. However, the movie just uses the moment as a springboard to a cynical college-age “Hangover” redo with far, far fewer fully developed characters or inventive adventures. (And that’s saying something.)
Rascally chatterbox Miller (Miles Teller) and somewhat more together Casey (Skylar Astin) surprise their old friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on his birthday with the prospect of a night of drunken wildness, more for them than him since he has a very important med school interview early the next morning. Drinks are drunk, Chang vomits (in slo-mo) while riding a mechanical bull, Miller and Casey are branded in a hazing prank gone awry, and they can’t find their way back to Chang’s apartment.
The film traffics in a dispiriting worldview of purposeful stupidity, which leads to the casual, unthinking racism, sexism, bigotry and general blinkered perspective that is the scourge of our era of optimized search — nothing matters outside their immediate, preconceived sphere.
The film has a strange obsession with race, the patter peppered with references to who is a what, be it white, Asian or Hispanic, though really no blacks because that would be awkward. A large pair of fellows are even pinned as being “ethnic Serbs.” The film’s ostensible villains, apart from a world that doesn’t always want to party, are angry Latinas and an overbearing Asian father. Add to that a single character meant to combine a romantic obstacle, fastidious male cheerleader and lunkhead jock all in one — he may be called Randy, but he could just as easily be named Plot Contrivance.
Through the course of the story it comes out that one character has been carrying a handgun (which goes off in a crowd and is then left behind). This character is failing out of school, potentially violent and may have attempted self-harm. Because suicide, mental health warning signs, the threat of campus violence and free-floating firearms are just hilarious, aren’t they? Late in the story a character who had been too drunk to stand, walk or talk for most of the film is suddenly behind the wheel of a car. Drunk and reckless driving is such a hoot, right?
“21 and Over” is the directing debut for the writing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and the film is being sold largely on their participation as the writers of “The Hangover.” It has been reported in these pages that a different version of “21 and Over” will be released in China with the story framed to tell the tale of a young Chinese boy who becomes corrupted by American decadence and returns to China to reaffirm his traditional values. Even such a reactionary moralistic context would be preferable to the version now crashing into American theaters, which has no tangible values, or value, at all. This is a movie that celebrates selfishness, stupidity and the mean-spirited insensitivity that goes along with it. We’re better than this, America.