With Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon, Sarah Wright, Jonathan Keltz. Written and directed by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs and drinking. 93 minutes.
“Identity Thief” was a terrible film, but it was wishful thinking to think the movie would be the worst of the year. In fact, it is a masterpiece compared to 21 AND OVER, which might rank as the worst movie of not only this year but of any year. However, because it is following the tradition of “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” of showing stupid and unlikeable people acting out in as gross of a manner as possible, it could very well be a big hit. If it is, that might be the saddest commentary of all.
Two high school friends who attend different colleges arrive on the doorstep of Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) to celebrate his 21st birthday. Each is a cartoon. Jeff is the straight-A Asian-American student whose father (François Chau) has arranged an interview with a medical school official the next morning. Part of the ensuing story of Jeff’s unraveling is meant to suggest that all is not what it appears to be.
The two friends who show up are Casey (Skylar Astin), the straight-laced Jewish kid heading to a Wall Street career, and Miller (Miles Teller), who is all Id. Although Jeff’s father is coming for him at 7 a.m., Miller wants to spend the night drinking and carousing. By the time Casey and Miller are carting Jeff’s unconscious body around, you know we’re supposed to find the goings-on to be non-stop hilarity.
What are these goings-on? Let’s see. There’s projectile vomiting… in slow motion. There’s Jeff getting up on a bar, dropping his pants and urinating on a crowd. There’s Jeff eating a (thankfully unused) tampon. There’s a Latina sorority where Miller gets to paddle blindfolded pledges and get them to make out before being discovered. Oh, and let’s not overlook the teddy bear glued to Jeff’s genitalia which we get to see removed in detail. There’s much more, but since these hijinks are the whole point of the movie you’ll no doubt want some surprises. Or, if you’re smart, you’ll take the hint that by skipping this horrible movie you’ve dodged a bullet.
Attempts to make the characters sympathetic are more on the order of pathetic. Typical is Casey who keeps meeting Nicole (Sarah Wright), a beautiful college senior who dares Casey to enjoy life before starting on his career, while he remains too repressed to act. See, that’s the point of the movie: the ones who get drunk, carouse, and don’t give a thought to tomorrow are the ones we should admire while those who act responsibly are losers. Thus we actually get the long overused cliché of the guy running through the streets to get to the girl of his dreams before it’s too late. Stop thinking. Have another beer. Or ten.
This is no “Animal House,” which played at anarchy while really showing how the underdogs can triumph over those who would keep them down. It was also genuinely funny. “21 and Over” is a 14-year-old’s dream of what being a college senior is like: which is to say it’s simultaneously overwrought and utterly lacking in imagination or knowledge. If this movie is a hit it will be definitive proof that H. L. Mencken was right: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.