Ben Campbell is a young MIT student who’s got dreams of being a doctor and has just been accepted into Harvard Medical School. Unfortunately for Ben, the tuition and the living expenses are astronomical, and his only hopes right now rest on getting a coveted scholarship. Ben is brilliant though, and soon gets the attention of one of his professors, Micky Rosa, who drafts Ben onto a team of students who have been trained to use their math skills to count cards int he game of Blackjack. First hesitant to engage in the game, he’s soon persuaded by a fellow member of the team who Ben is very much attracted to. And soon, Ben gets sucked into the life, enjoying his new persona for his Las Vegas expeditions as well as all the perks that go with that, even though things start to suffer for him on a more personal front back at MIT. But eventually that new persona begins to catch up with Ben in Vegas, and something goes horribly wrong for him, threatening to destroy any life that he has at all, both as a student and a gambler.
21 from director Robert Luketic (who I’m not that familiar with) is based on the book Bringing Down The House (also something that I’m not that familiar with) and I expect that the book probably contains a little more meat than what the movie gives us. The movie, at least to me anyway, is just “OK.” It’s about 15-20 minutes too long and it suffers from it’s slow pace. A movie like this should really give you more of an idea of what it’s technique (in this case, counting cards) is more like, and while it tries, at the end, I still really don’t have any sort of good idea about how it works. They’ve got their way of presenting it in the movie, but to me it’s almost like the little girl reading The Golden Compass in the movie of that same name, it works because this is the way it’s supposed to and you’re just having to accept it that way. At the same time, there’s not much that comes as a big surprise in the film either, now that’s OK, as long as there’s a little style and panache and edge that goes with it, but 21 doesn’t quite want to do that, instead more creating something that fits it’s PG-13 rating and is a little more appealing to it’s targeted younger audience. For me anyway, this ended up being more having to endure it until the end rather than getting sucked into it.
Young actor Jim Sturgess (who I’m also not familiar with any of his past roles) plays Ben, and while I’m sure he’s what the filmmakers wanted here, for me anyway, he just didn’t do a whole lot to really make me care about him one way or the other. He’s typically nerdy in his MIT sections (scenes with him MIT nerd/geek friends are almost embarrassing to watch sometimes) and his Vegas transformation comes on as a bit sudden, it just didn’t quite connect with me. He’s backed up with some good performances from Kevin Spacey, Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Bosworth (this is the third movie now that Spacey and Bosworth have been in together). The Spaceman’s really good here as Micky Rosa, and I also really like Fishburne in his part as a Loss Prevention specialist for the Vegas casinos. Both of these guys suggest that there’s way more to what’s going on with this racket than what’s shown on screen, and I think that might’ve been a way more interesting story to see.
From what I’m gathering though, I think my opinion of the film is in more of a minority than most. Your own mileage may vary and you may very well enjoy it a great deal, for me though, this was another case of a great trailer, but a so-so film, a film that could’ve benefited from having a little more edge and style to it, as well as quicker pacing that would just make it more compelling to follow.