The supreme irony of 21 & Over is that you have to be under 21 to enjoy it. Drunken hijinks and nothing but, the movie presents a 21st birthday as a legitimate rite of passage, one that must be celebrated like a Roman orgy.
This is, almost to the letter, a bargain bin version of The Hangover, or perhaps a bargain bin version of The Hangover Part II. There's a good reason for that: 21 & Over was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who are credited with the screenplay for the original Hangover. Except, as Hollywood lore has it, their screenplay was effectively gutted by director Todd Phillips. Phillips had made good movies before—and Lucas and Moore contributed Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Change-Up and Four Christmases to society—so, advantage Phillips.
Unencumbered by a rewrite that could actually make their work funny, Lucas and Moore settle into their usual mediocrity. Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) surprise Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) at an inconvenient time: Although it is his 21st birthday, tomorrow is his med school interview, the biggest day in his life ... or at least in his overbearing father's life. Miller is the devil on Jeff Chang's left shoulder; Casey is the angel on his right. Incidentally, his friends always refer to Jeff Chang by his full name. It's what passes for character development here. Even in a frat house comedy, that's pretty weak.
Despite Chang's objections and Casey's insistence that medical school is far more important than a night of boozing, Miller wins the judgment and a night of debauchery begins. As you might expect, Chang is imperiled throughout the boozefest, getting wasted, passing out, being misplaced, and so on. And here comes the conflict: Neither Miller nor Casey can remember their friend's address—and his hard-ass father is picking him up for that med school interview at 7 a.m.! (Remember, it took two fully grown adults to write and direct this.)
As the night spins wildly out of control, Chang's friends have moments of total clarity: Miller should be more serious and Casey should be less serious. Miller probably ought to set his sights higher than convenience store clerk and Casey should leave some time for not climbing the corporate ladder. One guy changed completely since high school while the other never changed at all. It's all really complex stuff. Casey flirts with a girl the movie fashions as being out of his league, so there's a lot of mystery surrounding how that will work out. And, naturally, there are sororities in the mix. 21 & Over tosses in those elements between each new chapter of drunken excess, slowly and unenthusiastically rolling to a predetermined early morning clash with Mr. Chang.
There's no sin in being formulaic. Formulas work; that's why people recycle them. But the difference between this movie and The Hangover—which has almost exactly the same premise—is enormous, because Todd Phillips can look at a Lucas-Moore script and see where and how it needs help and Lucas and Moore can't. Their characters are flat, their situations are uninspired and seem outmoded, their dialogue is vapid, and the sum is even less impressive than its parts.
Are there amusements here? A couple, sure. But there's not one scene that's really worth checking out, no character you can't miss, and no point to any of it.