If ever you needed proof that Hollywood was, in fact, some great machine concerned more with profit margins and the bottom line than in pursuing artistic endeavors and methods of personal creativity and expression, then look no further than the arena of copycat cinema, a realm creating movies that were undoubtedly focus-grouped to death and have had their metrics and potential profit margins looked over more discerningly than any single page of the screenplays that may or may not have played a role in getting them greenlit.
Aside from sequels/carbon copies like 'The Hangover II' (and more recently, 'The Hangover III'), the most egregious of these bandwagon films is probably '21 & Over' – a movie with a plotline so eerily similar to 'The Hangover' that you can practically see the pitch meeting where a young executive's eyes actually turned into dollar signs when someone uttered the words "Imagine 'The Hangover,' but in college."
The fact that Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers and directors of '21 & Over,' also wrote 'The Hangover' helps to assuage the notion of outright pilfering somewhat. The larger concern, however, is more firmly pointed in the direction of two guys being pigeonholed, to some extent, into an increasingly formulaic brand of comedy simply because they wrote what was (until 'Ted,' anyway), the most successful R-rated comedy of all time. I suppose the expected repetition of a triumph is one of the pitfalls of an astonishing and smashing success – which certainly helps to explain this movie, but simultaneously does little to validate the pair's work on 'The Change-Up' – and, if anything, past success and the hope for more granted Lucas and Scott the opportunity to direct a major motion picture (which is all anyone really wants to do, right?).
Aside from its writers, '21 & Over' shares a concept with 'The Hangover' and little else. Perhaps this has to do with the film's targeted demographic – though it would be hard to see how they would be much different – but maybe it has more to do with Lucas and Scott helming the picture and not Todd Phillips. Whatever your thoughts on Phillips as a director, he is remarkably consistent when it comes to an underlying amount of darkness and despair in all of his comedies, and despite some surface-level elements that are barely mentioned in the script, that dark feeling is completely absent here. Tonally speaking, this movie has more in common with 'The Change-Up,' but really, its closest relation is probably 'Euro Trip,' while 'Harold & Kumar' is the uncle it rarely sees, but remains influenced by.
It's an utterly uncomplicated film – anyone who has read the title, and/or seen 8.5 seconds of the trailer is qualified to sum up what the movie is about – but in case you're wondering what subtle nuance it's hiding to help set it apart from other college-aged drinking comedies, here goes: Three lifelong friends, Miller (played by Vince Vaughn clone and co-star of 'Project X,' Miles Teller), Casey (played by Skylar Astin, the might-be-perfect-for-Anna-Kendrick portion of 'Pitch Perfect') and Jeff Chang (played by 'Twilight' series survivor Justin Chon) gather to celebrate Jeff Chang's 21st birthday by embarking on that right of passage which transitions everyone from 20-year-old with a fake ID to 21-year-old who holds onto his or her fake ID for purely nostalgic purposes.
To complicate matters, Jeff Chang has an interview for medical school the next morning and his overbearing father is also in town to fill his son with undue anxiety, resulting in Jeff's rather dire mental state he's been keeping hidden from everyone. While Jeff is getting his drink on, being carried across town or otherwise disappearing while in various stages of undress, Miles and Casey work to repair their damaged friendship, while coming to terms with pending adulthood and the responsibilities (or chance to shirk said responsibilities) that transition brings.
The examination of friendship in the face of change is a tried-and-true emotional undercurrent, but '21 & Over' only manages to be an undercooked imitation of 'Superbad.' And rather than use the situation or characters' background as a springboard for humor, the screenplay lazily plays up various ethnic, social and sexual stereotypes and even resorts to instances of casual racism for a few weak punch lines. In addition to the hit-or-miss humor (admittedly, there are some jokes and gags that work well), the story just seems mostly tired and worn out, like someone in their thirties trying to match any twentysomething's ability to consume a prodigious amount of alcohol while simultaneously not worrying about bills, work or cirrhosis.
Although the film is far from successful, it's not for a lack of trying. If there's a joke, or occasion to demonstrate how in-touch they are with the alcohol swilling youth of America, Lucas and Scott will put it on screen. '21 & Over' demonstrates there are still some laughs to be had from such a familiar storyline – but they mostly come at the expense of others at risk for severe alcohol poisoning. Thankfully, the film's desire to please helps to make up for its clumsiness, forgettable characters and contrived storytelling. Overall, the film is about as effective as any surefire cure for a hangover.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'21 & Over' comes as a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo with Digital Copy. The 50GB Blu-ray contains several previews before reaching the top menu, which can all be skipped.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer is predictably great looking and manages to take a film which takes place primarily at night and maintain a high level of clarity and detail.
Parts of '21 & Over' were filmed in and around the University of Washington campus in Seattle, which is beautifully displayed on this disc. Fine detail is present in nearly every scene, and those depicting campus life are rich with background and texture that help liven up the image and give it additional depth. A substantial amount of attention was given to the buildings on campus, and the image does a great job conveying the old brick and stone construction, which adds considerable ambiance to the film. Additionally, bright and vibrant colors help play up the film's location, as lush greenery practically permeates the screen and enhances the film's sense of place and time.
But there is also a great amount of fine detail present in the actors' faces and their wardrobes. While some of the detail drops off a tad in wider shots, it is pristine in close-ups and serves to enhance the true-to-life look of the image. In that regard, the color balance here is also quite nice and manages to work well by saturating certain elements while keeping flesh tones looking bright, even and natural.
Finally, contrast levels also remain high throughout. Blacks are deep and inky, and the gradation is truly spot-on. As mentioned above, much of the film takes place at night and there was never a drop-off in detail during the darker sequences nor was there a trace of banding present during viewing.
Like the image, the DTS-HD 5.1 track is predictably great. The sound here is superb; it makes excellent use of multiple channels for a wonderfully well-balanced listening experience that manages to highlight the dialogue while playing up sound effects and blasting a clichéd, but effective soundtrack.
Dialogue is very clear and easily understood, even at low volume levels. Most importantly, it plays nicely with the other elements on the track, especially the ambient noise of neighborhoods, bars, college rallies and dorm parties. For the most part, those secondary elements are pushed through the front or rear speakers and the louder the scene, the more immersive the listening experience becomes. There is a nice atmospheric quality to the soundtrack that creates a realistic environment, but still manages to precisely highlight the character's dialogue without it sounding like it's all been rerecorded.
This is a simple little comedy, but there are moments where LFE and other sound effects come into play, and the mix expertly handles those instances as well. Gunshots, car crashes and punches all land with a satisfying thud that keeps things simple, rather than being completely bombastic. Additionally, the soundtrack pumps through the front speakers with ample force; making it one of the highlights of the film and greatly enhancing the film's playful nature.
'21 & Over' was sold primarily on what goodwill audiences still had for 'The Hangover,' and not much else. While the film manages to scrounge up some decent laughs, it struggles to keep its storyline going and because of that winds up resorting to a heavy use of clichés and inadvertently reminding viewers of better films. Worse yet, Justin Chon (arguably the funniest actor in the film) spends most of his time on the sidelines or as the punch line to jokes about his diminutive stature. On the plus side, Fox did a tremendous job with the transfer, giving this disc a great image and even better sound. Like a night of heavy drinking, this movie will be hard to remember, but if you're looking for an easy comedy, it's worth a rental.