It's only March but the year in film already has a reigning and probably unbeatable champion for the title of Most Elaborate Vomit Scene. It comes when freshly-21-and-entitled-to-a-blackout Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) heaves a volcano of slow-motion puke from a roiling place deep inside himself in what the movie depicts as something nearly approaching a barfgasm. It's disgustingly funny and for a moment it touches the greatness level of the Jackass franchise. If only it were also in 3D...
I figured I'd start this review with the highest praise the film deserved because the rest of this comedy, though frequently very funny -- in its first half, at least, before it feels the need to detour down the dark, bumpy road of tender feelings -- still plays like a spotty, erratic, wannabe cousin to the committed, sustained, amoral mayhem of Project X. As medium-entertaining as it is, in a battle of nerves it would lose thanks to X's refusal to sit down for any sort of meaningful "real talk" or soften up and make its characters beg for love. Meanwhile, that's all the three main party bros here seem to want. There's Chang, the pre-med student with anxiety and Dad issues, the casually racist dropout idiot Miller (Miles Teller) and the buttoned-down Casey (Skylar Astin), whose cuteness somehow doesn't get him laid. Ever. So they could all use a hug.
Lucky for them that the movie is more than ready to indulge their needs. As a fantasy of binge-drinking with no consequences it exists in the same dude cocoon as X and the Hangover films (screenwriters/co-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore also wrote that first Hangover). It lives comfortably inside the warm embrace of the unquestioned privilege its creators thoughtlessly provide. When the guys endure injury that would, in real life, prove fatal (or at least result in serious hospitalization) all they have to do is say, "Oh no, did we just kill Jeff Chang?" as though asking that question is its own post-adolescent talisman, warding off all worst-case scenarios. When they violate women, are caught by those same women and then punished for what they've done, the film can't bear to dole out anything approaching equal treatment. Arrested? No problem. Placed under psychiatric hold? Just jump out a window!
And when its time to face the big annoying life questions that the filmmakers insist take the place of what should rightfully be bigger, crazier, grosser laughs, the answers revolve around assumptions of vague, upper-middle-class creative freedom and personal fulfillment. Because, you know, of course 2013 is just like the booming 1990s and the economy is fine and cushy entry level jobs are everywhere. When you get one you can totally demand a lot of time off after working there for only two months and just head off to Coachella. Carpe diem! And if you have to rely on your parents for money well into your twenties? So what, they're just really old, people-shaped ATMs. So live your dreams, kids. Everything's chill.