By the dictates of the boys-will-be-boys party genre, 21 and Over is so tame that it barely manages to even be offensive. Granted, any movie that features guys pulling off a teddy bear glued to a friend’s dick and whose trifling engagement with minority cultures includes positing the members of a Latina sorority house as a marauding band of vengeance-seeking harpies isn’t exactly wholesome family entertainment (or, you know, not racist), but the directorial debut of The Hangover scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore is less a repository of outrageousness than it is a collection of PG-13-flavored antics and unnecessary late-game character revelations.
In truth, a movie like 21 and Over was probably doomed either way: If it wallows too heavily in questionably offensive bits, the film risks winding up doing little but indulging (white, straight) boyish behavior, and if it goes too far in the other direction, the movie’s whole purpose for existing seems called into question, particularly when we’re suddenly supposed to care about our young partiers as actual characters. But Lucas and Moore’s film strikes the worst possible balance, soft-pedaling the antics (the giveaway is that our boys only drink booze; there’s not a line of coke in sight), while still managing to use women and minorities as punch lines. Perhaps only a genuine sense of comedy could even begin to paper over the difference, but excepting two bits (one a throwaway gag about the difficulty of getting Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s name right, the other the unwavering deference shown to a campus bully by his closeted gay lackeys), this is a film even lower on laughs than it is on edginess.
It doesn’t start out that way—at least in terms of the movie’s willingness to offend. A film-opening cab ride finds obnoxious loser Miller (Miles Teller) and his old high school buddy, uptight, Wall Street-bound Casey (Skylar Austin), joking about fucking each other’s sisters while being driven to their friend Jeff’s (Justin Chon) house to celebrate the latter’s 21st birthday. The cab driver signals his increasing displeasure with their banter first facially than verbally, posited as a kind of half-hearted audience surrogate. We’re supposed to disapprove of Miller and Casey’s talk, but not really. The objections are inscribed strictly pro forma, a strategy the filmmakers continue to use by having other characters object to, for example, Miller’s racist comments, which we’re nonetheless expected to laugh at.
Once they pick up their friend who’s always referred to by his full name, Jeff Chang (presumably because he’s Asian and that’s funny), and is supposed to be getting a good night’s sleep in preparation for his med-school interview, the three pals hit the frattiest bars in town for a night of hardcore drinking. Only Jeff takes things too far and soon passes out. Lacking their buddy’s home address, Miller and Casey drag him around his college campus trying to find people who know him and can inform them where he lives so they can get him to bed. Most of the film consists of the filmmakers concocting a series of frustrations for our characters who seem perpetually close to finding the address only to be continually thwarted. Of course, it’s all an excuse for more antics, which include a pep rally with a bull mascot on the loose and a party at a seven-floor house in which you can only advance to the next level by winning a drinking game on each floor.
This terribly shot movie is a total eyesore with its haphazardly assembled long-lens framing, although the film’s “look” makes a fit visual match for its equally haphazard collection of gags. It’s easy enough to write off this movie as a total failure that isn’t imaginative enough to even be offensive—and that would certainly be a fair assessment. But while 21 and Over may be downright cuddly compared to such recent and obvious points of comparison as Project X, it still shares far too many dubious assumptions with its genre-mates: that having fun with your boys absolves you from any responsibility for your actions, that non-whites and women are inherently comical, and that the ultimate horror a man can face is having to kiss another man.