Any movie beginning with two dudes wearing nothing but tube socks (and not on their feet), welts on their buttocks and branded sorority logos to boot has nowhere to go but down. 21 and Over does that rapidly, gladly, and in a demented way gracefully at times.
I'm not ashamed to say how much the movie made me laugh but might be embarrassed to describe the jokes that did it.
21 and Over is a gnarly branch of the Animal House family tree, a collegiate comedy in which nobody seems capable of sobering up long enough to attend class. It may turn out to be a recruiting tool for misleading reasons; the odds that every college campus has this much debauchery going on are the same as every U.S. Navy enlistee becoming Top Gun.
The two underdressed guys in the opening shot are Miller (Lecanto High School graduate Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin). Twenty-four hours earlier they were arriving at fictional Northern Pacific University, surprising their high school buddy Jeff Chang — always pronounced like a two-syllable surname — on his 21st birthday. Jeff Chang is played by Justin Chon but could be portrayed by a sack of potatoes after the booze begins flowing.
Jeff Chang doesn't want that to happen. Jeff Chang has an important med school interview the next morning. Jeff Chang won't make that appointment but the why won't be spoiled. Neither will the reason why Miller and Casey are nearly naked with bruised and burned butts. Or what a stampeding buffalo, a poorly thrown dart and a tampon have to do with all this. 21 and Over simply exists in a state of arrested delinquency, and is fun if that's your thing.
The movie is written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote The Hangover and slightly reshape the template here. There are minor mysteries surrounding Jeff Chang that must be solved — where he lives, why he carries a gun, etc. — like the missing groom in The Hangover. Miller is a one-man Wolfpack, a libidinous motormouth without any apparent filter or shame. Casey is the "rational" one but only by comparison. Jeff Chang is another crazed Asian who could give Mr. Chow a run for his funny.
Not all the gags work, of course. Some are downright duds. But enough outrageous behavior clicks: body shots on unlikely bodies, a skeevy combo of vomit, slo-mo and a mechanical bull, and a gantlet of drinking games. 21 and Over remains enjoyable for what it is and all it cares to be, which is nothing any respectable movie critic should recommend, and I'm down with that.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.