A person’s 21st birthday can lead to drinking, partying and self-introspection. Well, maybe just the first two, but the new movie 21 & Over attempts to incorporate all three ideas into its story of one wild night experienced by three pals meeting up for the first time in a long time.
The male trio that spends the night partying together include the uptight Casey (Skylar Astin), the laid-back Miller (Miles Teller) and the perpetually stressed-out Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), and each actor plays their stereotypically-written character well. At first, Jeff is wary of going out because he has a big interview in the morning, but Miller eggs him on. Later, when Jeff has passed his limit, Casey tells his buddies that they should go home, but neither of his bros agree to his request.
Like The Hangover (which was written by the same duo, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore), this story celebrates the fraternal bond that its main characters share. The dialogue and the extent to what the friends will go for each other reveal that these friends—despite some of their poor decisions— truly care for one another.
Once the plot is set up and Jeff’s tightly-wound father (Francois Chau) is introduced as the over-bearing parent, the story gets underway. With Jeff now of age, he spends the early part of the night getting into bars that had previously rejected him. Soon, he is intoxicated and spending his time urinating on bar patrons and vomiting on a mechanical bull. These scenes extend for way too long and drag the story down. How long can one watch a dude get drunk and still find it funny?
But within the story’s first 40 minutes he is down for the count, and his friends are left wandering the streets trying to get him home and prepared for his interview. Casey and Miller carry him from location to location, trying to find someone who knows where he lives. From a regrettable visit to a sorority house to a huge party to a trip to the school’s medical facility, the boys find tons of trouble—some of which will haunt them as the night goes on.
Interspersed in their adventure are some comedic situations and a few laugh lines here and there. But oftentimes, the plot simply meanders searching for a funny situation and finding none in sight. One such scene that drags on for way too long is their visit to a huge house party. In order to speak to the diaper-wearing “king” of the party, the duo must face off against opponents in a variety of competitions. These take too long and once they overcome them, their meeting with the head of the party lacks a strong punchline that would have made this subplot worthwhile.
In the meantime, the writers feel obligated to create deeper characters, and so in the midst of their adventures we discover that the bros haven’t been honest with each other. Serious subjects are incoherently added to the story, including talk of a suicide attempt. Such fare feels blatantly out-of-place in a movie that attempts to celebrate a milestone in a person's life.
The story's momentum picks up in its final third but much of what preceded it is a waste of time. It’s hard not to laugh at some of the goofier elements of the story, and the actors seem to be having a great time onscreen with the sometimes witty banter. The comedy, though, fails more than it succeeds and 21 & Over becomes far too serious for a raunchy comedy that pales in comparison to the funnier and more evenly-paced The Hangover.