There is an incredibly fine line between “rip-off” and “homage.” From what I can tell, you earn that coveted title of “homage” by making sure that you a) rip-off something that was good in the first place and b) tweak it just enough that you make it your own.
Following that criteria, “21 and Over” is a glorious homage to pretty much every memorable comedy about youthful recklessness from the past 30 years.
Cribbing from the likes of “Animal House,” “American Pie,” “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Superbad,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Old School” and “The Hangover,” this movie takes beats from all these films and fuses them into something that is able to stand all on its own.
The last movie I mentioned in the previous sentence is of particular import because the writers of “The Hangover” are also the co-writers and co-directors of “21 and Over.”
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore do a fine job in their directorial debut and just as they did in “The Hangover,” they effectively anchor all the outrageousness of the plot to just enough heart and plausibility to make you care about the characters involved.
The story is a simple one. Three high-school friends who went their separate ways in college reunite for a night of wild partying.
Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) fly in to surprise their friend, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), on his 21st birthday.
Unfortunately, Jeff Chang (who is always referred to by both his first and last name) has an important meeting with a med school board early the next morning. That meeting was arranged by his terrifyingly stern father, Dr. Chang (Francois Chou).
Vowing to not let him get too drunk, Casey and Miller take Jeff Chang out to the bars; however, in the course of a single montage, Jeff Chang gets so wasted that he passes right out.
Lost and unsure of Jeff Chang’s address, Casey and Miller drag their friend around a hard-partying campus “Weekend At Bernie’s”-style on a quest to get him home in time for his big meeting.
Naturally, this is harder than it sounds as our boys encounter angry jocks, vengeful sorority girls, the local police, and all manner of weirdos while running up against one wildly hilarious situation after another.
All three leads do a fine job here. Chon steals a lot of scenes primarily because his only job is to be wildly drunk for the whole movie.
Astin, whom we last saw in a more thankless role in “Pitch Perfect,” shows a lot of charm as the straight-laced Casey. He struggles to be the voice of reason and solidly carries the movie’s lone romantic plotline as he attempts to woo Nicole (Sarah Wright), a knockout of a coed the boys repeatedly run into as the night progresses.
It is Teller, though, that gets the bulk of the laughs as the morally challenged slacker, Miller. He does a fine job of walking his character through that tricky no man’s land between likeability and obnoxiousness.
Underlying all the laughs and goofball situations is the anxiety that comes from growing up and growing apart. All three of these friends realize they are on different paths in life and have to come to terms with the fact that they don’t know each other, as well as they, used to.
But at the same time, there is a bond between old friends that never truly goes away and that is what “21 and Over” is ultimately about. Well that, nudity and jokes about vomit, but to be fair that is what most of college is ultimately about.
“21 and Over” is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs, and drinking.