Review: Entertaining '21 and Over' keeps the party going

Miles Teller, from left, Justin Chon and Skylar Astin star in “21 & Over.”

Photo by John Johnson, © 2011 Twenty One and Over Productions, Inc.

Miles Teller, from left, Justin Chon and Skylar Astin star in “21 & Over.”

Straight-A college student Jeff Chang has always done what he was supposed to do. But when his two best friends take him out for his ...

Rating: R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs and drinking

Length: 93 minutes

Released: March 1, 2013 Nationwide

Cast: Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin, Sarah Wright, Francois Chau

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Writer: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

More info and showtimes »

From a risk-management perspective, “21 and Over” is a how-not-to guide to celebrating your 21st birthday. Don’t drink to excess. Don’t throw darts without looking at the target. Don’t sneak into a sorority house late at night. Don’t go to a pep rally that features a bonfire and a buffalo.

Doing any of those things would have the potential for mishaps under normal circumstances, but doing them all — and more — in a movie written and directed by the co-writers of “The Hangover” means that everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Of course, for the movie audience, things going wrong is the right direction for comedy. It’s almost an imperative. Which means “21 and Over” is absolutely on the right track.

“21 and Over” has more than a small whiff of “The Hangover’s” shenanigans, but it’s not a remake. The characters are much more relatable, for one thing.

Miller (Miles Teller), Casey (Skylar Astin) and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) — whose full name is treated as a two-syllable given name throughout the film — were inseparable in high school yet have drifted apart during their college years. But it’s Jeff Chang’s 21st birthday, and Miller convinces Casey that they should visit their friend at school and take him out to celebrate the milestone.

Jeff Chang is happy to see his pals, but he declines the invitation. His stern father, Dr. Chang (Francois Chau of “Lost” fame), has wangled him an all-important interview for medical-school admission, and he has an early-morning appointment. Ultimately, Jeff Chang agrees to go out for one drink, and the stage for disaster is set.

One drink leads to many. Jeff Chang quickly makes an enemy. Everywhere they go, something unfortunate happens, with the painful results usually taking their toll on Jeff Chang. Miller and Casey try to take care of their buddy, but their decisions don’t work to his advantage. Or theirs, as the two end up wearing nothing but a sock, and not on a foot.

What raises “21 and Over” beyond just a simple story of carousing and consequences is the characters. As the movie progresses, characters that started off as stereotypes — Miller the unfiltered jerk, Casey the conservative capitalist, Jeff Chang the brainy Asian — begin to show different layers and an unusual level of self-awareness.

Even supporting characters aren’t what they first seem. Beautiful sorority girl Nicole (Sarah Wright) has an adventurous streak, and bully Randy (Jonathan Keltz) has surprising attributes.

The actors are all good, but the standouts are the fast-talking Teller (“Rabbit Hole”) and engaging Wright (“House Bunny”). They strike all the right realistic and comic notes.

The trailers for “21 and Over” make it look like a cross between “The Hangover” and “Project X,” but it’s definitely its own animal. Going to extremes is the means to an end, not the end itself. The film isn’t as deep as writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore would like to think, and it leaves viewers feeling content rather than thrilled, but it’s entertaining for its duration.

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