Screenwriters Scott Moore and Jon Lucas have “mildly enjoyable” down to a science. Their movies, which include “The Hangover” and the surprisingly good “The Change-Up,” feature a somewhat serious conflict inside a stupider one. The adult characters may be stuck in adolescence, but they have big hearts, so it's OK if they're self-absorbed or misogynistic. There is emotional nutrition to go with the boner jokes.
In their directorial debut, “21 & Over,” there are moments when Lucas and Moore don't dig into the same bro-friendly kit. In fact, the movie has a surprising poignancy in showing how college puts a wedge between high school friends.
Judging by Moore and Lucas' choice to do more of the same when given a chance to call the shots, we should not expect a transformation anytime soon. “21 & Over” is a perfectly serviceable comedy that feels like 10 other movies. Moore and Lucas cater to our expectations; they never challenge them. I was amused and entertained, but I felt a tinge of regret. We should expect more.
“21 & Over” takes us to Northern Pacific University, where Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) surprise their high school friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on his 21st birthday. Casey and Miller want to get Jeff Chang – one of the movie's most endearing qualities is how Jeff Chang is always referred to by his full name – legally hammered on this most important of birthdays.
But Jeff Chang has a medical school interview the next morning arranged by his mean dad (François Chau). Miller, the good time guy inspires Jeff Chang to change his mind. Escorted by his best friends, Jeff Chang drinks. A lot. Miller and Casey then have to get their plastered friend home, a sudsy odyssey that features psychotic male cheerleaders, an angry Latina sorority, and uncalculated property damage. Between the craziness, Miller and Casey, who have lost touch, realize that their lives are diverging and that the similarly estranged Jeff Chang has serious problems.
If it sounds like opposing ideas are at work here, you're right. Moore and Lucas never strike the right balance of solemnity and laughs, which leads to a lot of abruptly ended scenes and a trend toward the scriptwriter's fallacy that more is better. Jeff Chang's problems, which are at “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” side of the spectrum, get resolved with a few kind words and an outdoor music festival. A superfluous boyfriend is thrown into the middle of Casey's courtship with a cute coed (Sarah Wright) when his frustration at being interrupted by the unending night and their flirty chemistry is all that's needed. And considering the fate of Jeff Chang's dad, do we really need him?
“21 & Over” will be your favorite movie if you're a year removed from college. If you're older and have more years (and movies) under your belt, you'll see that the directors, like the characters they created, have become trapped by expectations. There's more to life than grades and jobs. And there's more to comedy than mining the same terrain for belly laughs.
Rating: W W W
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