21 & OVER Review

It was inevitable that this years comedy premiering in March and also beginning with the number 21 would get nowhere close to the glory of last years. That comedy and its dynamic duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a tough match yet despite their much larger popularity the boys of 21 & Over, Miles Teller and Skylar Astin, were able to put up a good enough effort to win them a good bit of credibility and respect. 21 Jump Street this is not, but coming out almost a year to the day as Project X (that one produced by Hangover director Todd Phillips) this all night long party of a movie is more in the vein of films such as that juvenile outing. This one, surprisingly enough, has a more sophisticated (for lack of a better word) approach and no handheld camera schtick or as large an element of disbelief distracting us either. As written and directed by the same guys who penned the original Hangover script, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, I'd have to say I was surprised by how much I took away from this film. It goes by at a breakneck speed and hits all the right, formulaic marks before finding a conscience at the end that teaches a fine enough lesson without feeling too hypocritical. The film is nothing anyone will find to be particularly groundbreaking and certainly won't stick around in anyone's mind for much longer than its theatrical run, but it is well enough fun and much better than it had any right to be. For that, it deserves a bit of positive word of mouth. It is one of those films easy to dismiss, hip to pass off, but if someone were to put it on in the background at a party I guarantee a good portion of the people would find their attention drawn to the antics onscreen.

Miles Teller, Justin Chon, and Skylar Astin in 21 & Over.
At the core of the insanity that ensues over the course of the film is an actual story with real characters a good portion of the demographic is going to be able to relate to. Lucas and Moore have divided the major qualities of the majority of college kids into three characters and watched them play out when they give them a night of abandonment from those oh so daunting responsibilities. Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), as he is so affectionately called every time he is mentioned throughout the movie, is turning 21 and his best friends from high school Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) decide to surprise their old friend and show up at his house to take him out for a night of celebration. when they arrive they are surprised to find Jeff Chang's dad present and instructing them not to take his son out as he has an important interview in the morning for medical school. Naturally, there would be no movie if the boys decided to follow instructions and so Jeff Chang agrees to go out for one drink before he heads back home and straight to bed so as not to disappoint his terrifying father (played by the man behind the Dharma initiative himself, Francois Chau). Again, there would be no movie if this also went according to plan. As things turn out, it seems Jeff Chang needed a night to let loose and instead of breaking that need down into several increments he lets it all out on this one night. While Casey (the responsible one) knows this is a bad idea and will probably not end well, but goes along with it as he's not really opposed to having a good time and it's clear Jeff Chang needs it. Throughout the course of the night crazy things happen and while this is nicely foreshadowed in the opening scene of the film, the insanity level isn't as high or unexpected as one might expect, but it does offer a few outlandish segments that will garner laughs no matter who the characters are.

What adds an extra layer to the film is that we do actually come to care about these characters. Through the course of this one night this small trio of friends who've become distant throughout their college years catch up with one another, learn things about each other, and come out on the other side better for it. Doing his best Vince Vaughn is Miles Teller. The guy is a gifted comedic actor, there is no doubt in that. He lit up the screen in the 2011 remake of Footloose as Willard and the year before showed dramatic range in Rabbit Hole. As Miller he is the guy who hasn't changed since high school and still finds it entertaining to go out and drown a night away in alcohol and taking advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. After the mega success of Pitch Perfect Skylar Astin is a hot commodity in any movie and especially one that caters to a similar and if not broader age range. While Astin may not have the charisma of Miller and is entrusted with playing the straight man here he allows the level headed in the audience an outlet and perspective that are not usually present in these kinds of films. It isn't the obligatory guy who is against it all, who doesn't like to have fun and is considered uncool. No, Astin's Casey is a young man trying to be mature and grow up while balancing that transition with what will be his the final few months of his college career. There is a naturalistic charm to him that will carry over from Pitch Perfect and bode well for his character here. This might also be why he immediately attracts Jeff Chang's friend, Nicole (Sarah Wright). This love interest isn't ever fully developed but serves as a well enough tool for Casey to have the same type of realizations he asks his friends to have as their party comes to a close and life goes on.

Casey (Skylar Astin) and Nicole (Sarah Wright) are introduced by mutual friend Jeff Chang.
As 21 & Over comes to the end of its brief hour and a half running time it almost feels like it almost rushes to have to resolve all of its subplots while pushing off the main issue of getting Jeff Chang home safely and in time for his interview. It seems Jeff Chang has a good bit of growing and maturing to do himself as his friends learn throughout the night they might not know him as well as they thought. There are several plot holes in the film that could easily be pointed out and poke holes in how this all could go down with this specific set of circumstances, but a movie like this doesn't necessarily have story as the number one priority. What this movie is out to accomplish is to give the audience a good time with fun characters and in that much it succeeds as I really had a fun, carefree time watching the movie play out. It should be noted that as Jeff Chang is ultimately the core of the film that Justin Chon who I've not seen in anything before, but see he's been in a fair amount of things predominantly the Twilight series. Chon doesn't have much to do except yell curse words and drink alcohol off several different surfaces before running around nakes with a teddy bear glued to his crotch for the rest of the movie, but he is endearing. Given that list of duties to perform, this is somewhat of an accomplishment. In the end, this certainly isn't a film you're going to rush out and see, in fact I wonder how long it will remain in theaters as it's already made back much of its budget and the onslaught of big March releases will push it out quickly, but if there's a random weekend night a few months down the road where you need a bit of escapism, a bit of nostalgia, or maybe even just a glimpse of an experience that will set your college expectations way too high you could do much worse than 21 & Over.