Jon Lucas and Scott Moore teamed up to write one of the more original comedic scripts in recent memory, The Hangover. It's a truly original comedy, even if the sequel was repetitive if entertaining and funny. But now four years later, the writing duo has set up shop in a director's chair, and it's more than a worthy debut. This is an early review, but 2012's 21 and Over will hit theaters March 1, 2013.
In hopes of surprising their best friend from high school, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), on his 21st birthday, Miller (Miles Keller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) arrive on campus with some big plans for the evening. The surprise may be for nothing though because Jeff has a huge interview the next morning bright and early about getting into medial school. Feeling some intense pressure from his Dad (Francois Chau), Jeff tries to convince his friends that he just can't go out and party....at first. After some convincing from Miller, the trio heads out with the plan to drink and party for a little bit before coming back home. Well, that plan lasts about 10 minutes before Jeff decides his birthday deserves an all-out blowout. It isn't long before Jeff is blitzed-annihilated-smashed and passed out drunk, and now Miller and Casey have to navigate a college campus with all sorts of shenanigans, hijinks, partying and drinking with a fast-approaching deadline.
It seems a long way off from the teen comedies of the 1980s courtesy of John Hughes. Since then, we've seen the American Pie series, Road Trip and Euro Trip, the awful Scary Movie series, Not Another Teen Movie, Can't Hardly Wait, and more recently, Superbad. What is the common link among those movies? One after another things get ratcheted up. It's not just about getting the girl/guy you like to like you back, it's about doing that while navigating through a bizarre series of episodes that get crazier by the minute. So in the vein of 2012's Project X and from the writers of The Hangover, we get The Hangover: College Edition. Thankfully, it's not told via flashback. Instead, we're there with the trio as they try to get out of one sticky situation after another. A younger version of The Hangover might be a bad thing, but it's not the same movie, and it's far the better for it.
So where these teen sex comedies have gone in the 2010s is further than ever. The shenanigans and hijinks have been cranked up. At different points in their nighttime misadventures, Miller, Casey and Jeff Chang run into Chief (Russell Hodgkinson), a strung-out dancing druggie, Nicole (Sarah Wright), a sorority girl Casey wants to hook up with, a revenge-seeking Latina sorority, Randy (Jonathan Keltz), a go-get 'em cheerleader/yell-leader with his two not so tough sidekicks, campus cops, Jeff Chang's highly intimidating Dad, Dr. Chang, a rampaging buffalo mascot, countless drinking games and plenty of other craziness. The different characters end up crossing paths here and there, one crazy situation piling up on top of each other as Jeff Chang gets drunker and drunker while Miller and Casey get more and more lost, the apartment getting further and further away apparently. The nighttime travels were filmed on the campus of University of Washington, a great backdrop to the story. Odd to commend filming location on a movie about drunken debauchery? Eh, maybe, but it works. It's a gorgeous campus.What a college campus should look like.
Throw away all the sexy-drinking-puking-running from cops-and-angry parents shenanigans (in any teen comedy), and there's got to be something more going on. Okay, for me at least. So in the same way The Hangover and Project X worked because there was something oddly charming about the characters, '21' works because through all the craziness, I liked the three main characters. Miller is the motormouth troublemaker, a really smart guy who lacks the motivation to get good grades at the community college, Casey the preppy Stanford student ready to jump into a career at a law firm, and Jeff Chang (not Jeff, not Jeffrey, not Chang...just Jeff Chang), ready to jump into medical school if he can get through his upcoming interview.
Directing their first film, Lucas and Moore show off a talent behind the camera, but the key with the characters is the writing, the duo combining to write the script too. Getting the message across that these three college students have been friends forever is a slippery slope. The story is focused on a span of about 18 hours so it's not like we get a whole lot of background. The pressure falls on the script and the cast to bring it to life. I loved the dynamic among the three. They're close friends who've drifted apart some over the years, and they're starting to realize it. While the drunken craziness provides the bigger laughs, I thought the best laughs came from the dialogue, the bitching back and forth that can only come from being friends for years. There is a somewhat surprising dark plot twist about one of the three that is a tad unnecessary, but it's not overdone.
Go figure. I liked another pretty random, pretty raunchy and pretty goofy teen comedy. It's a relatively unknown cast, but it's well-written and funny from the start. It consistently provides laughs, saving one of the biggest for the final scene. Is there a sequel in the future? The ending certainly leaves that possibility open. '21' gets it major release in a few weeks on March 1, 2013. I highly recommend it. I imagine it won't get a whole lot of positive reviews, but it never tries to be a classic movie, just one that entertains and makes audiences laugh.
21 and Over (2013): ***/****