Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Cinema File #142: "21 And Over" Review

Apparently, there is a character in the new comedy 21 And Over named Jeff Chang. I wasn't sure if you were aware of this from watching the trailer, but yes, in fact, one of the main characters, get this, goes by the name Jeff Chang. See, I missed this at first, so it was oh so very helpful that the movie not only went out of its way to refer to Jeff Chang by his full name, Jeff Chang, every time he is mentioned, but that they would proceed to mention his full name, Jeff Chang, about, oh, say, five thousand more times throughout the film. And its just so damn funny too, you know, his name being Jeff Chang and all. I laughed literally every time the name Jeff Chang was spoken. I'm even laughing now. Every time I type the name Jeff Chang, I have to stop and compose myself because of just how absolutely hilarious this name is. Jeff Chang.

Ack! So anyway, this movie is a thing that just happened to me, and frankly, all sarcasm aside, I'm not the least bit happy about any of it. 21 And Over is the story of two inane friends reuniting some years after high school to celebrate the 21st birthday of their equally inane mutual friend, the aforementioned Jeff Chang. Despite having a medical school interview the next morning overseen by his strict father, Chang is bullied by his friends into going out drinking, resulting in predictably wacky hijinks. This movie made me want to puke despite not having imbibed anything close to the amount of alcohol shown being swilled on screen. Oh, don't get me wrong, I will be getting drunk as soon as I finish this review, if only to Tequila away the memory of this painful excuse for comedy.

I get the distinct impression that this story was inspired by true events. The way it is structured and the way the characters relate to each other just gives me the feeling that the writer of this movie had a night very much like this one in his college years. Perhaps in the hazy fog of nostalgia, this night out drinking and partying is now remembered as the stuff of legend, where friendships were forged and blottoed heroes were born. And yet, more than likely this night was none of those things, merely exaggerated to epic proportions in hindsight, morphed into something just outrageous enough to inspire a screenplay about the craziest night of this writer's life. Assuming I'm correct here, the fact that this is what he came up with is just sad.

I'm sure the writer remembers the unfunny douchbags these characters are based on as being just hysterical, but either he was mistaken, or there's something lost in the translation. I am immediately affronted by the in your face attitude of what I gather by context is our primary source of what would otherwise be comic relief, a fast talking loser doing what I think is his best Vince Vaughn impression. He's joined by the straightest of straight men with the personality of a brick who borings his way through boring like some kind of mad genius in the art of boring. And then there's Jeff Chang, the walking stereotype of an Asian youth, stressed out and forced into a life of over-achievement, just one beer away from exploding into a fury of repressed insanity. I do not find anything remotely entertaining about any of these people.

Though it doesn't quite rise to the level of Identity Thief, the characters here are just so unlikable that I can't become invested in their plight at all, which just makes it all the more insulting when the movie expects me to root for them and relate to their problems. I don't necessarily need a likable protagonist in order to enjoy a movie, I just don't want to be force fed an unlikable one as if they were. Curb Your Enthusiasm, one of the greatest television series of all time, is all about a self centered jerk, but the reason it works is that I'm not expected to sympathize with him. The world in which he exists is at best casually indifferent towards him morally, if not actively hostile against him. 21 And Over wants me to love its self centered jerks just because, and makes no effort to earn my affection, I assume because it assumes I'm just as much of a douche as the people on screen, and will thus naturally relate.

You know, even the worst American Pie movies, including the straight to DVD sequels, had at least one funny moment in them, even if it was extremely brief. I honestly can't think of one thing I laughed at in this entire mess. I see where they were trying to set up situations in which things might have become funny, but they never bother to follow through with any of them. I don't mean the movie tries to be funny and fails. It never tries. I want to say its half assed, but I think that might be too generous. Is it possible to use less than half an ass doing something? Could this movie be using a quarter, or even perhaps an eighth of its ass? It skates just up to the edge of mean spirited without being outright offensive in its unfunnyness, but that's about as high a compliment as I can muster.

There is nothing about this movie, no character or set piece, that is the least bit charming, let alone amusing. I haven't been paying all that much attention to the box office, but I can only hope that enough people saw reason after watching the trailer for this and stayed away. If this movie made enough money to encourage more of its kind, I don't know if I'd want to live in that terrible future world. If there's still time, please stay away. Don't give them an excuse to make 22 And Over. My soul can't take it. Jeff Chang.

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