Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: 21 & Over

Films about drunken romps and over-the-top debauchery have long been a staple of the silver screen.  With the success of movies like The Hangover, Project X, and other alcohol infused narratives, we’ve seen the audacity and raunchiness of each successive film ramped up.  While 21 & Over is by no means the dirtiest flick of ‘em all, it certainly tries to make a run at that title.  And while it’s easy to quickly dismiss this movie as a juvenile hormonally driven example of societal decay, upon closer inspection it seems 21 & Over may not be a complete cinematic write off.

The plot focuses on Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), two friends from high school who show up unannounced to celebrate the 21st birthday of their other former best friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon).  The three of them go out for an epic night on the college town even though Jeff Chang has a highly important interview scheduled for the next morning.  Drunken chicanery, fisticuffs, and physical trauma force the three to evaluate their friendships and realize that all may not be right in their respective worlds.

As I think of this film, there are three levels upon which to judge it: the plot, the raunchy physical comedy, and the chemistry.  Each worked (and didn’t work) to varying degrees:

The Plot. Both Jon Lucas and Scott Moore serve as writer/director and their ties to The Hangover Franchise and The Change-Up should immediately serve notice that 21 & Over is not going to be a film of Shakespearian proportions.  Still, (and this may be a function of low expectations), there is surprisingly more going on here than the typical college idiocy.  There’s a bit more meat on the bones to these friendships and to their personal journeys than you would expect.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say the plot was well done but I will say it was a pleasant surprise.

The Raunchy Physical Comedy.  There are a few good sight gags peppered between the necessary bumps and bruises required to advance the plot.  There are also a few cringe inducing visuals that make you question exactly why you are watching this film.  However, where this film loses its comedic way is its attempt to outdo its fellow salacious films.  It seems that every time there is a lull in the plot, lewd visuals are inserted to augment the narrative – a definitive sign of the lack of experience on the part of the first time directors.  There seems to be enough verbal and garden-variety physical comedy to drive the film, but the creative team opts to introduce elements that could possibly turn viewers off.  These decisions greatly hinder the film.

The Chemistry.  No one is ever going to nominate Miles Teller, Justin Chon, and Skylar Astin for Academy Awards.  But the three of them have a good chemistry that is most apparent in the scenes when the actors are clearly given the liberty to ad lib.  Those scenes stand in stark contrast to the rest of the film and tend to be the ones that provide the laugh-out-loud moments.  Far and above all else, their exchanges of ridiculous banter serve as the redemptive quality for what is mostly a vacuous film.

Does any of this mean you should see this movie?  I think it boils down to this.  If you have a loose sense of humor and ninety minutes to kill, you could do worse than to give this a look on DVD or on a premium cable network.  However, if you’re a bit more serious or consider yourself something of a sophisticate, then you’ll want to take a pass on this one.  It’ll make you want to throw the remote at the screen.  I didn’t hate this movie as it made me laugh a bit more than some of its peers, but then I didn’t go out of my way to watch it.  That, plus low expectations made for optimal viewing conditions.  Be wary.

Standout Performance: Miles Teller.  He drops some of the best lines in the movie and provided most of the laughs.  Honorable mention to Francois Chau for providing a few laughs as Jeff Chang's father.


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