In Miles Teller's screen debut, the Very Serious drama Rabbit Hole, he manslaughters a toddler and weeps on Nicole Kidman's lap. In the opening shot of his latest, the seriously fun 21 & Over, he struts across a college campus naked except for the Anthony Kiedis-style tube sock on his dick. Ladies and gentleman, a star is born. Miles Teller has the commitment of Daniel Day-Lewis, the crazy of John Belushi and the aura of the second-string high school quarterback you couldn't decide if you wanted to kiss or punch in the mouth. (C'mon fellas, search your soul and you'll secretly agree.) Oh—and Footloose proved he can dance.
En route to conquering the world, the 21 & Over star is in the surprisingly confident hands of first-time directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers of The Hangover and the heartbreakingly underrated The Change-Up. Lucas and Moore's aged-down bro-down is like if the Hangover trio took a Delorean back ten years to revive their friendship before it had to add Zach Galifianakis for spice. Miles plays Miller, the Lacoste visor-wearing instigator, who totes his increasingly bourgeoisie high school best friend Casey (the deceptively normal Skylar Astin of Pitch Perfect) to surprise their third BFF Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on his 21st birthday. Alas, Chang's dad (the Walkenishly stern François Chau, who growls “dickheads” like it's an ancient samurai curse) is in town to make sure he nails his 8 AM med school interview. Naturally, ten minutes into the movie, the birthday boy is, what the kids say, krunked.
Drunk, Jeff Chang is a demonic Pokemon. The biggest thing to-date on (31-year-old!) Justin Chon's credits is playing one of Bella's classmates in Twilight, but Chon can expect to get at least three good years of fame from being the guy who chews and swallows a brand new tampon in a single-take close-up that could have gotten him a supporting Oscar nom if he'd also cut his hair and sang. Too soon, however - but not too soon for a 30-second slow-mo vomiting scene - he's comatose, forcing his just-visiting friends to drag his body around campus to find out where he lives before Daddy Dearest picks him up at 7 AM. At least the 5'6” Chon weighs less than the Weekend at Bernie's dude's mustache alone.
Chang makes the most of scenes where he's conscious and coherent: he rides a bull, he dances with a teddy bear glued to his crotch, he does the world's most adorable body shot off of an obese man's belly. And thanks to a smart script move, he continues to be a major character even when he's as limp as over-boiled asparagus. As Miller and Casey troll his university for clues as to where Chang lives, they find that their supposed best friend's life is a lot darker than he's let on over the phone - and come to think of it, lately they've been lazy about calling. Which means the three of them need to admit they're now friends in name only.
At 18, college acceptance letters roll in and it becomes clearer which of your friends are going to have a good life. Still, people have four years to screw it up by dropping out, drinking too much or forgetting to use a condom. At 21, the future is more in focus. Casey is headed to Wall Street, Jeff Chang will obey his dad's demand to become a doctor. And Miller is getting left behind. He's got a job at the gas station, gets wasted every day and refuses to take on any more responsibility than feeding his cat. He's got nothing - and everything - to lose, and Teller taps into the fearful desperation of a kid who realizes if his life hasn't already peaked, it might tonight. He's drowning his worries in cheap braggadocio and even cheaper beer, but we can see them fighting to surface, even if Casey's too wrapped up in his own future to notice. As their adventure stumbles on, we're watching the end of a friendship, or at least the end of a friendship that pretends everyone is going to wind up just fine.
21 & Over sticks to The Hangover's formula of booze + bromance + mystery = gold. It even also works in a hot blonde love interest for the square (Sarah Wright), and an extended shot of an Asian man's weiner. But while the warped violence of The Hangover made you honestly believe someone could wind up dead, 21 & Over powers along with a winning Abercrombie bonhomie, IE naked guys and racism. Hilarious racism, that is - Teller will say anything for a laugh, and he gets lots of them. The jokes are so equal opportunity, there's even a scene where Miller and Casey heckle two ethnic Serbs during beer pong and ask if their Miller Lite tastes like freedom - which given that the Kosovo War ended when they were 7, must have made them the best-read second-graders in America.
“You kids today. Every one of you is spoiled, drunk and fat,” grumbles Jeff Chang's dad - a line that will probably get cheers in the right college crowd audience. Like a sloshed Scott Pilgrim, 21 & Over plays to the young and the nostalgically young, especially when the dudes face the Tower of Power, a Nintendo-esque challenge braving them to win nine classic drinking dares in a montage of quarters, keg stands and suck-and-blow. Besides Mr. Chang, their antagonists include a Latina sorority that's way into spanking and is responsible for one of the best make-outs in the movie - and no, it's not the first softcore lesbian one you see in their house - plus a Spirit Squad captain (Jonathan Keltz) and his two gleefully demented male minions, Julian (Daniel Booko) and Jayden (Russell Mercado), who cheer threats like, “Hurt his feelings, Randy!”
Of course, the biggest villain in a movie like this is maturity. And 21 & Over bitterly enjoys harshing its own mellow. In one scene, our heroes scope out a police drunk tank where under the harsh fluorescents, the fun of alcohol evaporates, leaving behind scary and sad zombie husks. Kids, this is your brain on Goldschläger. Worse, in an earlier moment the guys decide that at 21, they're too old for musical festivals, and accept that in 10 years, they're all going to be married and boring with minivans and kids. School comedies are all about celebrating the narrow, exclusionary window of youth, but 21 & Over threatens to put its own characters in a retirement home before the credits.
Guys, you're never too old to like watching dumb dudes drink shots. Just take it from the 50-something stranger with a long mustache and metalhead t-shirt next to me in the theater. As the lights dimmed and 21 & Over began, he leaned over and whispered, “This is the second time I've seen it - it's so good.”