'Hangover' writers show promise in directorial debut

Justin Chon (right) stars in the one-wild-night flick,

by Jase Howell

The directorial debut of writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the minds behind “The Hangover” films and “Project X,” is exactly what one would expect.

“21 and Over” is about a wild night of debauchery, sexual situations, drugs, alcohol and plenty of outlandish acts of stupidity. Yes, apparently Hollywood thought we needed another one of these; but, considering the great year the industry had in 2012 — a year very much on display at the Oscars — I suppose we can forgive studios’ interests in making some quick bucks on taking money from teenage boys and 20-something males. Rest assured, as long they’re still going to theaters Hollywood will keep churning out “21 and Over”-type films. Why stop when the money is always there to be made?

Anyway, you’ve probably seen most of this before. Miller (Miles Teller, “Project X”) and Casey (Skylar Astin, “Pitch Perfect”) are visiting their friend, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon, “Twilight”) for his 21st birthday at an Ivy League school. Upon their arrival they find Jeff has a very important interview the next morning for med-school acceptance arranged by his overbearing father. Hence, the night of debauchery to celebrate Chang’s birthday is out of the question.

Well, not really; after all, if it was we wouldn’t have what passes as a comedy here.

The old high school friends go into the night drinking anything but turpentine and being obnoxious on a bar crawl through the city. At one of their early stops they meet Chang’s friend, Nicole (Sarah Wright), and Casy falls immediately for her. At the same stop, Miles and Chang get into an altercation with a psychopathic male cheerleader (Jonathan Keltz). Both Nicole and the cheerleader will figure prominently in the all-night affair, and this is where things spin out of control. Realizing Chang can’t even speak, let alone walk, Miller and Casey are now in charge of getting him back for his interview; however, as they’ve forgotten where he lives this is a problem.

The film features breaking into sorority houses, disrupting pep rallies, letting buffalo loose and, of course, fighting with a male cheerleading squad, climbing a tower of drinking games, and avoiding police. During most of this the mostly-passed out Chang takes the majority of the abuse.

There really isn’t anything here we haven’t seen before. It’s kind of same recycled story — they’ve just placed in new actors and loud club music. But, to be fair there is some redemption to this film. A few of the wild antics actually work, but what really keeps the film together is the screenplay by Lucas and Moore that does allow for some pretty funny banter. Vulgar and perhaps inappropriate, yes, but still funny at times. This was one of the secrets to the success of “The Hangover” films.

It also helps that, like “The Hangover,” the key characters can pull off the panicked scenarios so well. “The Hangover” launched several careers, but will “21 and Over” do the same? Maybe. Teller, Astin and Chon all show promise, and make this film funnier than it probably ever should have been. It may not be completely balanced between actual wit and sophomoric humor, but it surpasses the likes of, say, “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder.”

Lucas and Moore are close to being the next Farelly brothers. They have already grasped the concept of clever, quick and at times offensively idiosyncratic dialogue. Now they just need to harness some original ideas, or the one wild night theme will get redundant real fast. They had enough saved up for this one to make it at least somewhat entertaining, but what about next time? Hopefully they have greater goals than striving for just another “Hangover.”