Nearly thirty years ago, The Breakfast Club encapsulated high school life during a single Saturday where members of different cliques converged for a day of detention. Overseeing them was Principal Vernon, a man who may have once been inspired to teach but has soured on the idea of educating teenage youths. Besides the memorable discourses between a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, there is a scene involving Vernon and Carl the Janitor discussing then-today’s teenagers. The setting may have been Middle America, circa 1985, but the notion that kids are getting more and more arrogant isn’t a reach. But neither is the idea that the adults have changed as well.
I bring up The Breakfast Club in relation to 21 and Over not as a way to mention John Hughes in a review yet again, but as a means to segue into a film review of a comedy that will appeal more to a segment of today’s population versus viewers who grew up enjoying comedies like There’s Something About Mary and Clerks.
This new comedy from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers of The Hangover, wants to be a 21st century Animal House. Instead, its humor is too cruel and callous, and the film’s tonal shifts happen so suddenly I thought I was watching a “very special episode” of a sitcom. (Anyone remember the Saved By the Bell where Jessie Spano was hopped up on caffeine pills? She was “so excited” she went on to do Showgirls.) In the course of 95 minutes, Lucas and Moore go to small lengths to make light of suicide and binge drinking. They probably could have succeeded in their attempts if they had a good story and memorable characters to back it up.
The story involves college senior Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), son of an overbearing father (Francois Chau, a.k.a. Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze!). Jeff should be delighted that it is his twenty-first birthday. Instead, he’s stressing out because he’s got a medical school interview the next day.
Here to assuage those concerns is his best pals from high school, Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller), who surprise him on his birthday with plans on helping Jeff get his alcohol on with a night on the town. What could possibly go wrong?
Once the drinking begins it presents us all styles of mayhem, including seeing a plastered Jeff Chang hurl while riding a mechanical bull. Presented in slow-motion, the sequence sees the brown-tinted puke project out of his mouth only for him to get it on his face due to the gyration of the bull. Classy.
While Jeff is binge drinking, Casey flirts with blond sorority girl Nicole (Sarah Wright). Sadly, she is spoken for, and her yell-leader boyfriend becomes one of Miller and Casey’s nemeses. The others would be Jeff’s father, who never liked them, and a Latina sorority who didn’t take too kindly to Miller spanking two pledges with a wooden paddle.
When Chang passes out, after vomiting and a public urination demonstration on top of a bar (I guess he was trying to make a new kind of cocktail), his friends are without a clue in trying to get him back to his apartment. Their quest to get him there in time to be cleaned and ready for his interview sees the two friends lose their clothes and butt-branded with the sorority’s Greek letters, partaking in an eight-floor drinking game, and staging a hospital breakout. Somewhere during all this Chang has a stuffed animal superglued to his junk.
What’s really disappointing is the waste of young, upcoming talent. Skylar Astin, who starred in Pitch Perfect – infatuated with college capella girl Anna Kendrick – and whose character had an ardent love of The Breakfast Club, is less engaging this time around. Miles Teller, whose Miller character is a minor league Van Wilder-type, has his talent wasted having given a nuanced performance as a teen still coming to grips with killing a young boy in 2010’s Rabbit Hole. Hopefully, his Sundance hit The Spectacular Now will make people forget about this crass college comedy.
One of key factors that make a comedy memorable is its quotability. It seems that most screenwriters lose sight of this fact. The biggest quote to take away from 21 and Over is “Did we just kill Jeff Chang?” The fact that Miller constantly refers to his friend Jeff as “Jeff Chang” as opposed to “Jeff” or “Chang” is just stupid. It’s as if Lucas and Moore are jabbing the audience to laugh because this is a Caucasian talking about his Asian-American friend.
Aside from mocking Asians, the screenwriting duo also take shots at the above-mentioned Latinas and Jews as well. What’s worse is the inclusion of exposition relating to a suicide attempt. This isn’t the type of comedy that needs such a serious subject, so why include it at all?
21 and Over, like last year’s Project X, depicts life as one big party, both literally and figuratively. While it is nice to want to embrace the carpe diem nature, said hedonism comes at a heavy price. Sadly, Lucas and Moore can’t get a handle on the material and have made a crass comedy that is devoid of memorable characters or humor. Skip the booze and move on to pot-smoking comedies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle instead.
Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Writers: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Notable Cast: Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon, Sarah Wright, Francois Chau