For a comedy about two buds who take their birthday boy pal on the night of his life filled with partying, copious amounts of booze, and flirtatious girls, I expected 21 & Over to be a somewhat obnoxious ride through unsupervised adolescence with some cheap shots that wouldn’t have the film feeling as if it was devoid of all laughs. I’m glad to report that my expectations were wrong.
21 & Over gives two charismatic guys who have shone in supporting roles in recent sleeper hits (Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin and Footloose’s Miles Teller) the chance to take the screen with leading roles. They play a typical loose cannon/straight guy comedy routine, but what makes the duo noteworthy is how well they’re able to set up jokes and deliver the punchline.
Teller is Miller – the partier – who appears he’s been given the direction to “out Vince Vaughn” Vince Vaughn. He rapidly spurts off insults, wonders why everyone isn’t quite as wild as he is, and thinks highly of himself when trying to pick up women. Teller, though, is able to make a lot of his material work because of his timing and his deadpan readings and expressions.
The jokes are benefited even moreso by Astin’s “straight man” role, Casey. He’s there to state the obvious and to always be that character we can all root for throughout. He’s also a character who isn’t afraid to call Miller out on his wisecracks and overly confident attitude. He isn’t afraid to tell Miller to “shut up” and that’s a character attribute that is missing in so many buddy comedies that fail.
There are prat falls and frequent obscenities, but the jokes I found myself laughing at the most were the seemingly off-the-cuff banter between Astin and Teller. These are side conversations that don’t necessarily impact the story, but shows how fun their friendship is when these two are easily distracted by something/someone they find interesting. A random back-and-forth about Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of these highlights.
Let’s not forget about Jeff Chang (played by Justin Chon), the often inebriated yuk-yuk who unintentionally gets himself in fights and awkward situations all while not knowing where he is. Chon’s hilariously executed sense of unknowingness and innocence while being pulled along on this wild ride of a night is what makes us laugh at his expense. The expression, “it’s funny because it isn’t happening to you” is in full force as we watch Chon’s gusto carry him from one sticky situation to another. Literally.
21 & Over is brought to us by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the same writers who penned The Hangover, but this film is surprisingly more like Dude, Where’s My Car? – and even more surprisingly wants to be the next Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle with the usage of racial stereotypical humour.
It’s funny – in an un-PC sort of way – but a lot of the shots at Jeff Chang’s irritated father and a sorority made up of angry Latino women feel like they’re missing a punchline. Just by showing angry ethnicities doesn’t guarantee hilarity. Why the first Harold & Kumar worked so well is because narrow-minded characters would presume the dimmest of accusations and possibilities based on silly ethnic stereotypes, which would usually be addressed by our sane stoner duo. Some of these race jokes work in 21 & Over, but others feel like they’ve been written by those narrow-minded characters from Harold & Kumar without anyone calling out just how silly they are.
There are plenty of disgusting jokes including a tampon midnight snack and a messy mechanical bull ride – all of which would sound even grosser in print – but the crew behind 21 & Over can get away with a lot of it because of how likeable the cast is and how quick the timing is all around. For a film cast entirely of lesser known younger actors, this vehicle shows a lot of great comedic talent.
Female moviegoers are going to be surprised with just how much of a skin flick this is for them, which leads me to Astin and Teller’s courage. I admire them for being able to push their own boundaries and comfort zones with this step in their careers. It’s a ballsy move. Literally.