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Movie Review

‘21 and Over’ is a birthday celebration worth skipping

From left: Skylar Astin, Justin Chon, and Myles Teller star as friends celebrating a birthday in “21 & Over.’’

John Johnson

From left: Skylar Astin, Justin Chon, and Myles Teller star as friends celebrating a birthday in “21 & Over.’’

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the rookie directors of “21 and Over,” really, really want you to know that they also wrote “The Hangover.” If you dug seeing 30-something guys spend a night or so spiraling out of control, you’ll definitely go for the just-turned-legal version, right? Well, the question is less rhetorical than they might think. Among the ingredients “21” is missing: the infectiously random silliness of a Zach Galifianakis, the smug hunkiness of a Bradley Cooper, and any sort of Vegas-y gloss whatsoever.

I’m not a “Hangover” hater, exactly, but I’ve never understood all the fuss — which makes it harder still to see the appeal of a movie that aspires to be the unplugged, raunchier, more youthquaking version. Is there endless rip-roarin’ hilarity in drinking-game montages, or tampon gags, or — in this one’s idea of a beauty shot — footage of a college kid projectile-vomiting as he rides a mechanical bull? You might have to check with someone else — if not someone who’s 21 himself, then maybe someone who’s drunk.

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Miles Teller (“Project X”) trades on his vintage John Cusack vibe as Miller, a motormouth partier who picks up old bud Casey (Skylar Astin, “Pitch Perfect”) for a college campus drop-in on Jeff Chang (Justin Chon, “Twilight”), another pal from back home. (The guys amusingly never call him anything other than “Jeff Chang,” a throwaway joke that’s atypical, unfortunately, of Lucas and Moore’s in-your-face approach.) Jeff has finally hit that birthday of birthdays, so it’s high time, as Miller puts it, that “your best friends take you out and [expletive] you with alcohol.” You don’t suppose things could get sticky with that big wedding — um, med school interview Jeff’s got in the morning, could they? Nah.

When Jeff passes out, Miles and Casey realize they don’t know the way back to his place, setting up a night-long odyssey filled with sorority misadventures, gangsta male cheerleaders, and an agitated tiger — um, buffalo. It didn’t entirely hit me like a party I just wanted to leave; Chon has some fun gonzo moments when the movie bothers to wake him from “Weekend at Bernie’s” drag-along mode. Miller and Casey’s sorely tested bromance eventually grows on you. And Casey’s fretting that a squirmy body art episode is an affront to Judaism might have worked for Ed Helms in “Hangover II.” But enough of highbrow wit. Beer pong, anyone?

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.
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