Jon Lucas, left, and Scott Moore at Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
Three guys, one night, drunken debauchery. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore realized that, on paper, their new screenplay, "21 & Over," looked very derivative of "The Hangover."
Then again, they were the guys who wrote "The Hangover," which spawned the most successful R-rated comedy franchise of all time and heralded their arrival as successful Hollywood writers in 2009. And they wanted to direct a movie. So they decided to go with what they knew.
"We were definitely conscious that the angle people would take on the movie is that it was a 'Hangover' retread," said Lucas, sitting next to his writing partner in a Hollywood sports bar a few weeks ago.
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"But on a very practical level," Moore chimed in, "we wanted to get another movie made and direct it ourselves. If we went in and were like, 'It's a drama, it's not funny, and it's about a teenage girl in Alaska,' it'd be a harder sell. ... If you just killed it doing a superhero movie, doing another superhero movie makes sense to a studio."
Relativity Media agreed the idea made sense and bankrolled the $12-million "21 & Over," opening Friday. The film follows three college students (played by Miles Teller, Skylar Astin and Justin Chon) celebrating their buddy's milestone birthday during an evening that includes beer pong, scantily clad sorority girls and car chases.
Though the movie is likely to only confirm the duo's reputation as gurus of the party movie, Lucas, 37, and Moore, 45, are hardly party animals themselves. The two, who toiled for years in feature film rewrite work to pay the bills, resemble SoCal soccer dads more than former beer-guzzling frat bros.
While filming "21" on the University of Washington campus in Seattle in 2011, they feared that they were often mistaken for professors or even narcs. Over lunch at Dillon's Irish Pub, they fretted over whether this article would mention that they ordered French fries — their wives, they worried, would give them grief for eating unhealthily.
"People often meet us and are very underwhelmed," Lucas said with a smile. "We both have little kids, and we don't live those lives anymore. We write from a place of nostalgia."
Even in college — Lucas at Yale University, Moore at the University of Colorado, Boulder — neither said they performed too many keg stands.
"I don't know that I was ever the cool kid," Moore admitted. "I would look at the world around me and think, 'Oh, that party looks like a lot of fun. I wish I was there.'"
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What seemed so romantic about the party scene, both said, was the notion that a single night had the power to transform one's life. As an example, they cited the 1998 high school comedy "Can't Hardly Wait" — the movie is set at a graduation night party where seniors are all secretly hoping to emerge with changed reputations.
"What made that movie great was not actually the party," said Moore. "Watching people drink and have a good time and do keg stands isn't actually the good part. It's about the characters, and how you can relate to their quest for something to change their life."
Tucker Tooley, the executive producer of the movie and president of Relativity Media, said it was that attitude that sold him on the film.
"Jon and Scott are able to take very commercial one-liner ideas — someone's 21st birthday, a bachelor party — and make them specific and character-driven," he explained.
Allowing the first-timers to direct the movie, however, wasn't a no-brainer: "It wasn't a snap decision. It took us a while to actually come to the conclusion, but frankly, they earned it. They were really compelling in their arguments, and even tagged along with a director on another movie to see how things worked."
"We totally Dick Cheney-ed ourselves in," Lucas joked. "It felt sort of arrogant, but we felt really comfortable in this world."
The pair's 14-year partnership began in the office of writer Daniel Petrie Jr. ("Beverly Hills Cop"), where the two worked as his underlings. The first script they wrote together was "Flypaper," a bank robbery comedy that took over a decade to make it to the big screen in 2011, when it became a critical and commercial flop. They had more luck at the box office with the holiday comedy "Four Christmases" and "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," both released before "The Hangover."
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Because they spend so much time writing together, the duo says, they rarely ever hang out with each other on the weekend. When they can, they even prefer to write separately: After banging out an outline in the same room, they often send drafts back and forth via email from their respective home offices.