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It’s Animal House with a Hangover in 21 & Over, an aggressively vulgar, sporadically funny frat party of a comedy with just one thing — well, maybe two things — on its mind. It actually might help to be under 21 to fully imbibe the spirit of devoted drunkenness and desired debauchery unleashed by this tale of an unplanned birthday all-nighter that gets a wee bit out of hand. A lot better than the similarly scabrous Project X (not to mention The Hangover Part II), this paean to youthful irresponsibility applies the right crude and rude ‘tude to its bulging sack of gags to have the desired effect on its target audience.
Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote the original The Hangover and, in the cause of their directorial debut, they’re not averse to borrowing from themselves for the basic premise of having some guys embark on a normal celebratory outing, only to see it get waaaay out of control. If this ultimately comes off as a junior-league Hangover, it’s still not such a bad thing to generate even a third as many laughs as Todd Phillips‘ film did, and it’s clear that directors Lucas and Moore are on very much the same wavelength as writers Lucas and Moore.
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This time, the Asian guy is at the center of things. No, it’s not Kim Jeong again, but Justin Chon as Jeff Chang, a diminutive college student whose two best buds from high school aim to take him out on his 21st birthday. Visiting Jeff’s Pacific Northwest campus from Stanford is straight-arrow Casey (Skylar Astin), but the engine for the evening is Miller (Miles Teller), a crude motormouth with a constant line of b.s. who’s got troublemaker written all over him.
Goody two-shoes Jeff at first wants to bow out of the whole deal, as his tyrannical father (Francois Chau) has landed him an all-important med school interview at 8 the next morning. Under unrelenting pressure, Jeff agrees to go out for one beer. It’s impossible not to divine what follows.
As the trio makes the nocturnal rounds of college-crowd bars and nightspots, the mis-behavioral highlights include: some dude pissing down on a bunch of girls, Jeff throwing up endlessly in ultra-extreme slo-mo while riding a mechanized bull and a hungry Jeff consuming a tampon as a snack. Early on, Casey lights a certain spark with smart-mouthed blonde Nicole (an appealing Sarah Wright) and would prefer to linger, but Miller relentlessly pushes their prowl further into the night until they have to somehow figure out where the essentially comatose Jeff resides so they can tuck him in before Dad rolls around in the a.m.
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Ever-escalating, the action proceeds to wherever Lucas and Moore decide the boys can get into the most trouble. Thus, Miller and Casey land in a Latina sorority house, where they get into some amusingly kinky initiation rites before escaping accoutered only in strategically placed socks, Red Hot Chili Peppers-style. For his part, Jeff has had a teddy bear firmly attached to his nether realm, and the fuzzy critter’s eventual removal from his body counts as one of the film’s big gross-out moments.
Through it all, Casey can’t help but wish he were spending these nocturnal hours with Nicole; instead, he and Miller have a running altercation with her mean-tempered boyfriend Randy (Jonathan Keltz). As dawn breaks and Dad’s arrival draws near, things get a little heavier than one might have anticipated, with the characters’ futures all on reset in the wake of the drunken spree.
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Only two months in, 2013 would so far appear to be Teller’s year. He amusingly runs his mouth here for nearly 90 minutes, only to reveal some unsuspected vulnerability and self-awareness in the final moments — this after the actor’s expertly nuanced, multilayered teen-role performance in James Pondstoldt‘s Sundance highlight The Spectacular Now (Teller is actually 26 and can still get away with playing some years younger). Astin (Pitch Perfect) is fine as his more straight-laced foil, while Chon (Eric in the Twilight series) is game for the multitudinous embarrassments that befall his character.
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