For all its raunchiness, The Hangover was distinguished as much by its unexpectedly elegant plotting as its cast’s chemistry and its famous setpieces. It was like an out-of-control frathouse that happened to reside in the loveliest building on campus. The Hangover’s myriad knock-offs retained its scatological enthusiasm while abandoning its underlying precision in favor of manic, random wackiness. That’s especially true of 21 & Over, though in its case, the rampant stealing from Todd Phillips’ surprise blockbuster is at least self-plagiarism, since it was written and directed by Hangover screenwriters Scott Moore and Jon Lucas.
Miles Teller stars in The Hangover: The College Years as a hard-partying smartass who arrives on campus on a mission to get best friend Justin Chon blackout drunk on his 21st birthday. He gets a grudging assist from Skylar Astin, a meek Jewish yuppie on the fast track to a lucrative but tedious finance career. Chon is terrified of disappointing his demanding father by possibly failing to make a good impression at his med-school interview the next morning, but the trio’s night of debauchery spirals out of control as they lumber through a punishing gauntlet of wackiness involving vengeance-crazed Latina sorority girls, a stray buffalo, and a stroll across campus clad only in cock-socks. The winning Chon commits to shameless physical comedy on an almost-scary level, at one point greedily chewing on a tampon for the sake of a bad-taste gag, but it isn’t an encouraging sign that Chon, 21 & Over’s most committed and engaging character, spends much of the film in various states of unconsciousness, in an unintentional homage to the Weekend At Bernie’s films.
21 & Over intermittently attempts to transcend its disreputable subgenre with nods to the central trio growing apart and intimations that Chon isn’t the upbeat achiever he originally appears to be. But this strange groping for maturity and substance feels out of place in a lowbrow would-be crowd-pleaser otherwise devoted to serving up its college sex-comedy clichés straight. In 21 & Over’s creepiest, most repellent scene, Teller and Astin pretend to be authority figures to coerce a pair of nubile co-eds into sexual activity. This tactic meets most definitions of a sex crime, but 21 & Over views it as good raunchy fun, though it’s eventually punished by what the filmmakers imagine is the ultimate humiliation its demographic can envision: heterosexual men forced to engage in homosexual acts. 21 & Over seems particularly redundant, since a film already exists that’s exactly like The Hangover, only not as good: It was called The Hangover Part II. 21 & Over is so slavish in imitating its screenwriters’ big claim to fame that it even ends by teasing a sequel, to which the only sane response is a polite but firm, “Thank you, no.”