When The Hangover was first released, I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be as influential as it was. However, after countless quoted lines on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube posts, plus over $400 million worldwide, this seemingly insignificant comedy became a cultural icon that influenced the way the comedies of today are made, and the individuals involved, most notably writers Scott Moore and John Lucas, became comedic icons in Hollywood. And yet, with the release of The Hangover: Part II (which while they didn’t write but were still attached to) and The Change-Up, these two writers began to slip into the “one hit wonder” category for many individuals, including myself. So when it was announced they would be teaming up to direct a film they wrote about a 21st birthday going awry, titled 21 & Over, I was anxious to see how it would all play out. While the film did provide laughs, it unfortunately lacked the consistency, charm, and meaningful plot to truly push it into a top-tier comedy.
21 & Over follows the story of two guys who decide to surprise their best friend, Jeff Chang, on the eve of his 21st birthday. However, it’s also the night before a huge medical school interview so the three agree to take it easy, but obviously one drink turns into many and hijinks ensue as this duo tries to get their friend home before he throws away his interview and his future.
The main and most important positive of this film was that it made me laugh, plain and simple. While not all of the jokes hit, Moore and Lucas kept throwing them at me so fast that there was rarely a time I wasn’t at least chuckling. While the other two leads were pretty good, easily the best performance was Justin Chon, whose portrayal of Jeff Chang is well-acted and with perfect comedic timing. Most of the best comedic scenes throughout the film are when the three men are just riffing off of one another; it seemed very natural and had me in stitches. There were a few cool montage scenes (like The Tower of Power) and the cinematography at points was very impressive for a comedy.
The main problem is that the jokes are very inconsistent. While some made me laugh uncontrollably, there were others that had me stone-faced. When raunchy humor is thrown into a film just for the sake of being raunchy, the jokes come off as forced and not really funny at all, and that happened on numerous occasions in this film. On top of this, unlike films like The Hangover and Superbad, the characters in this film are horribly written to the point where I couldn’t care about them. The story seemed forced and unnecessary as well. All of the hijinks the three were getting themselves into never really felt like they were taking place for any other reason than the filmmakers needed to put a plot into the film to set up each wacky situation.
21 & Over is pretty much the definition of a ‘turn off your brain’ film. If you can manage to do that, you will most likely have a good time. While there were jokes that landed perfectly, leaving myself and the whole audience around me in stitches, there were others that felt unnecessary and overly crude just because. Other than that, what you have is a poorly paced, sloppy plot with characters that you can’t really care about and all of the clichés of R-rated party films of the past couple years. If you are really in the mood to go to the theater and see a film that doesn’t really challenge intellectually, this will certainly scratch that itch. Other than that, I would say rent The Hangover or Superbad, you’ll have a much better time.
Review by Nick Franco