Or, Dudes and Their Butts — The Motion Picture. Look, we all know that gay panic long ago went from being the subtext of the boys’-night-out genre to becoming one of its main punchlines. Think back to Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott making out in a car in Dude, Where’s My Car? or Rob Corddry going down on Craig Robinson in Hot Tub Time Machine or Ed Helms having sex with a ladyboy in The Hangover Part II. And while 21 and Over can’t match those films for laughs, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle occasionally at the degree to which it takes the whole latent homosexuality thing to new levels. Indeed, the film’s young audience of horny boys may actually be perturbed at the endless male nudity on display. Alas, that’s about the only interesting thing about this otherwise glum cash-in.
Actually, that’s not true. The film does sport some decent performances from its young cast, chief among them Miles Teller, who brings an unexpected bit of charisma to the familiar role of the lovable dickhead who spends all his time thinking about how hard he and his buds are going to party. (I used to call this the Bradley-Cooper-in-training role, but then Cooper got himself nominated for an Oscar and now makes award-winning movies, so his throne stands empty.) Miller and his slightly nerdy friend Casey (Skylar Astin, last seen as the male lead in Pitch Perfect) are headed to their friend Jeff Chang’s (Justin Chong) college to celebrate the young man’s turning 21. They want to go drinking, but JeffChang (that’s how they pronounce his name, “JeffChang”) has a med school interview early in the morning, not to mention a hard-ass father determined to make sure he doesn’t miss it. Still, Miller and Casey’s powers of persuasion are mighty; as Miller puts it, “I’m going to fuck you with alcohol.” So before we know it, JeffChang is rocked out of his gourd, barely conscious, while his slightly less wasted buds are trying to get him back to his dorm. Things don’t go as planned, clothes are shed, comical yet horrific acts of violence are committed, jocks (in this case male cheerleaders) are humiliated, a Hispanic sorority is mobilized into a retributory force, cops are called, etc. It doesn’t come near the demented chaos of last year’s Project X (which I described at the time as “Girls Gone Wild meets Black Hawk Down”), but, then again what does?
21 and Over was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote The Hangover, so they know a thing or two about raunch, and they know a thing or two about story; what made The Hangover work so well was in part its odd, mystery-genre structure. They try for a bit of the same in this new film, in that our heroes spend much of the film trying to find JeffChang’s house, but a bunch of guys looking for a house isn’t a mystery, or at least not an interesting one. At the end of the film, when they piece together the clues to finally discover where the house had been all along, you may find yourself surprised to discover the movie was supposed to even have a story.
More importantly, and more fatally, the raunch itself isn’t all that nutty, either. Sure, there’s a teddy bear glued to genitalia, there’s an elaborately grotesque nod to Eyes Wide Shut, there are surreal party scenes galore, not to mention the aforementioned cascade of dude nudity (dudity?). But it’s all so lifeless. Even some of the actual laughs feel obligatory, like the result of a sense-memory of superior raunchfests like The Hangover and Superbad, and even Project X , than anything this movie’s achieving on its own. The overwhelming vibe you get is that of someone straining to outdo those films, and failing. In the end, 21 and Over is more exhausting — and exhausted — than funny or wild.