If you can’t imagine anything funnier than the sight of a drunk Asian-American streaking in a pink bra with a teddy bear glued to his junk, that’s OK, neither can “21 and Over” writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. The pair, credited with scripting “The Hangover,” apply roughly the same formula to a younger cast in their dumb-fun directorial debut. Promising crude straight-boy humor, but delivering sensitive buddy moments and tons of male nudity, this by-the-numbers gut-buster looks slick, moves fast and packs enough laughs to enliven spring-break receipts and earn its helmers more work.
The paradox of America’s minimum drinking age is that it requires would-be boozers to be 21 years old before they’re allowed to act like irresponsible children. Tonight’s the night for Jeff Chang, an unfortunate Chinese stereotype (played by Korean-American “Twilight” actor Justin Chon) who’s tired of being mistaken for a teenage girl by bouncers, and even more fed up taking orders from his demanding dad (Cambodia-born Francois Chau), who expects him to follow the family tradition and become a doctor.
With his two closest high-school buddies, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), in town to celebrate, the newly 21 overachiever can’t resist defying authority, never mind that tomorrow is the med-school interview that determines his future. For once, JeffChang — whose friends always refer to him by his full name — wants to spend an evening worthy of a college-movie montage. And so he does, flashing his ID at skeptical bouncers (and flashing a lot more at the crowd of girls at a local bar), doing shots and tossing his cookies while riding a mechanical bull.
This is the stuff memories are made of — or, in the “Hangover” tradition, the stuff wild-and-crazy characters can’t remember when they sober up the next morning. “21 and Over” begins with Miles and Casey strolling across Northern Pacific U. naked, save for a pair of strategically placed tube socks. It’s the morning after the birthday festivities, and the two agree never to mention what happened the night before, which of course is the directors’ cue to replay every loony detail over the next 90 minutes.
Some may wonder how Miller, Casey and JeffChang ever came to be friends in the first place, though the idea seems to be that college serves to redefine priorities and separate once-close bonds. Casey is the responsible one, making plans for a promising internship in New York over the coming summer, while Miller remains the group’s instigator, a role well suited to the charismatic Teller, a movie star in the making who amplifies the energy of his recent “The Spectacular Now” role to almost oppressive ends. JeffChang has no on-campus friends to speak of, which makes it tricky when he passes out drunk, leaving his two inebriated pals trying to find his home. Lucas and Moore approach this quest with all the seriousness of a true hero’s journey, putting Miller and Casey through a gauntlet of challenges to get their friend back in bed.
The script operates by drunk logic, relying on brisk editing and of-the-moment song choices to race past any opportunity auds might have to question the characters’ reasoning, while allowing for such shenanigans as raiding a Latina sorority, crashing a latenight spirit rally and mastering a series of rowdy drinking games in the quest to return JeffChang home. While the solution is staring them in the face all along, the characters wouldn’t have had such an intense opportunity to re-examine their friendship or, in Casey’s case, discover romance, courtesy of a toothy coed (Sarah Wright) whose dimples have more dimension than she does.
If raunchy college comedy “Road Trip” was enough to launch Todd Phillips’ career, this play-it-safe debut delivers, but doesn’t exactly surprise, proving Lucas and Moore like their protagonists wasted, but not their opportunities.