Tom Hanks had Bachelor Party. Matt Damon had Stuck On You. Poor Matthew McConaughey got stuck with EdTV. Nearly every leading man must endure his own dumb, immature comedy on his road toward stardom, usually proving himself to be the best thing in those movies as reason not to write him off completely. Now it's time for Miles Teller to undergo the same rite of passage, starring as the foul-mouthed human id in 21 and Over, a college-set "one crazy night" comedy with exactly as little imagination as you think.
Probably less, actually, since writers and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are embarrassingly content to repeat all the beats from their script The Hangover, starting the film during the aftermath of the wild night and rewinding to see how the characters got there. Instead of a tiger, there's a buffalo. Instead of angry Chinese gangsters, there's an angry Latina sorority. Instead of a groom-to-be gone missing, there's a friend (Justin Chon) passed out and being dragged from place to place. And instead of slick Bradley Cooper there's live wire Miles Teller, acting for all the world like a young Vince Vaughn but proving, just like Cooper did in The Hangover, that he's a star worth watching.
Stopping short of the sociopathic mayhem of last year's Project X and the harshness of The Hangover Part 2, 21 and Over couches its antics in the genuine friendships between the three boys, high school friends all attending separate colleges and visiting for a weekend. Miller (Teller) is the motor-mouthed slacker who has secretly dropped out of community college, Casey (Skylar Astin) the buttoned up ambitious one who's gotten a little too uptight, and Jeff (Justin Chon)-- the birthday boy-- an ambitious med student with demons of his own that get revealed over the course of the night. Most of this character development is shoved awkwardly into heart-to-hearts between the characters, but the three actors really sell it, treating each other with the affection and loyalty you'd expect from guys who've known each other this long.
Most of the adventure they encounter is pretty standard-issue wild-night stuff, from an angry bully who won't go away (Jonathan Keltz) to stoners who draw all over Jeff's face to the pretty sorority girl (Sarah Wright) who has eyes for Casey but shows up at all the most embarrassing moments. But once in a blue moon Moore & Lucas write something original, like the mindless lackeys who follow around the bully and constantly shout "Great job, Randy!" or the party guru played by Josh Gad in an odd cameo. And though maybe 80% of the jokes feel dumb, offensive or both, a remarkable number of them are rescued by Teller and Astin, who at the very least have earned a buddy comedy that offers them a bit more dignity. (Chon, while effective in his few scenes, spends most of the movie unconscious)
With a completely different cut of the movie, with a completely different message, opening in China, 21 and Over is very blatantly a product, engineered to replicate The Hangover as closely as possible while appealing to even more college kids. But for a movie this cynical to be remotely worth watching is a pretty impressive credit to the performers; here's hoping it's just a Bachelor Party-style footnote for Teller, Astin and Chon's long careers.