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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

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'21 and Over' is fearlessly fun and surprisingly balanced

The crude comedy will entertain folks who can take a joke

By Peter Hartlaub

San Francisco Chronicle

POSTED:

Relativity MediaSkylar Astin, Justin Chon and Myles Teller star in  "21 & Over."

If you've signed a petition in the past seven days expressing outrage at the Oscar night political incorrectness of Seth MacFarlane, stay far, far away from "21 and Over."

It might be best to avoid multiplexes altogether for the next two to four weeks on the chance you mix up theaters after a bathroom break, and walk in when our heroes trick two pledges at an all-Latina sorority into making out with each other.

Whether that sounds like good fun or a sign of the apocalypse will influence your ability to embrace this college party comedy, which treads heavily through "Harold and Kumar" territory with some new ground covered as well. The movie was directed by the writers of "The Hangover," most likely conceived when they were younger and dumber but also more fearless. Combine that with a nothing-to-lose small budget filled mostly with little-known actors, and the result is uncompromising comedy.

'21 AND OVER'
Rated: R
***
Opens today

"21 and Over" sets the crude tone early, opening with our heroes Miller and Casey (Miles Teller and Skylar Astin) looking defeated, walking across a college quad wearing nothing but athletic socks covering their genitals. Flash back one day, when the pair surprises high school friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on his 21st birthday.

Chang has a strict father and a medical school interview the next morning, but he goes out any way. Most of the movie follows Miller and Casey on a quest to get their unresponsive/hallucinating friend back to his apartment before his father shows up.

Young parents in the audience may be wondering why no one dials 911 — in real life Jeff would have died tragically four or five times. Just as those parents' parents probably thought the panty raid in "Revenge of the Nerds" should have resulted in felony arrests. "21 and Over" requires a suspension of both disbelief and the moral high ground.

But once you accomplish those tasks, there are many rewards. Writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore find a nice balance between the over-the-top high jinks and an emotional core, which unexpectedly crystallizes relatively late in the movie. When the 18-year-olds who love this movie grow up, it might still mean something to them.

What looks like a simple journey is given "Odyssey"-like significance by the writers. A quest to find a residential adviser at a party has allusions to Dante's nine circles of hell and "Apocalypse Now." Jeff Chang's scene telling off the college town's various bouncers is an excellent use of montage. Throwaway jokes about Smart Cars, "Rocky IV" and oversized music festivals ring true.

Teller, who excelled in a smaller role in the underrated 2011 "Footloose" remake, is the standout. He possesses most of the better qualities of Jonah Hill and Ryan Reynolds, although too jumpy at times.

The weakest link is Casey's love interest Nicole, who speaks and acts like a shallow man's ideal of a girlfriend — speaking in sexy repartee while rarely resembling a real human being. Much of this movie's dilemma could be quickly solved with a smartphone — was the script written before that technology?

If there's a weighty question in "21 and Over," it's "are Miller and Casey the best friends ever or the worst friends ever?" Somewhere between the scene with slow-motion puking and naked ritual branding, you'll forget you even asked.






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