Jerry and Rachel are two strangers thrown together by a mysterious phone call from a woman they have never met. Threatening their lives and family, she pushes Jerry and Rachel into a series of increasingly dangerous situations, using the technology of everyday life to track and control their every move.
Ben Campbell is a young, highly intelligent, student at M.I.T. in Boston who strives to succeed. Wanting a scholarship to transfer to Harvard School of Medicine with the desire to become a doctor, Ben learns that he cannot afford the $300,000 for the four to five years of schooling as he comes from a poor, working-class background. But one evening, Ben is introduced by his unorthodox math professor Micky Rosa into a small but secretive club of five. Students Jill, Choi, Kianna, and Fisher, who are being trained by Professor Rosa of the skill of card counting at blackjack. Intrigued by the desire to make money, Ben joins his new friends on secret weekend trips to Las Vegas where, using their skills of code talk and hand signals, they have Ben make hundreds of thousands of dollars in winning blackjack at casino after casino. Ben only wants to make enough money for the tuition to Harvard and then back out. But as fellow card counter, Jill Taylor, predicts, Ben becomes corrupted by greed ... Written by
According to Kevin Spacey, as part of their research for the film, they took some of the real players who was on the original team to Vegas. Although they weren't allowed to play, every time they wanted Spacey to up his bet, they would push up against his chair. He said, "I would win every time!" See more »
During the opening scene montage, when Ben is riding his bike across the bridge, the position of his backpack changes several times. See more »
'Winner, winner, chicken dinner.' Those words had been dancing around my head all night. I mean, it's Vegas lore, that phrase. Just ask any of the old-time pit bosses, they'll know. It was a Chinese dealer at Binion's who was first credited with the line. He would shout it every time he dealt blackjack. That was over 40 years ago, and the words still catch. 'Winner, winner, chicken dinner.' Yeah, try it. I had heard it at least 14 times that night. I couldn't lose. First...
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Unfortunately for audiences going to see the new movie "21," the producers of the film didn't adhere to that all important Vegas slogan that gives reprieve to the city of sin: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." In the case of the new movie that follows a team of Blackjack card counters, the story should've been left alone in the book it was based on and never graced the silver screen. Unlike other films of Las Vegas lore, "21" didn't feature such grittiness like that of "Casino" nor the charming wit of "Ocean's Eleven." What the film did feature, however, is monumental melodramatic moments and lackluster directing that had me struggling to keep that $10 soda I bought from squirting out my nose. In fact, the only redeeming quality of the film was the end, which came only after an excruciatingly slow two hours.
The story, based on the bestselling book "Bringing Down the House," hinges on Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) as a quiet MIT undergraduate who lacks the resources to attend Harvard Medical School. It is only after he is invited to join an established team of card counters that Ben sees a way to raise the $300,000 he needs to pay his way to becoming a doctor. The team features four other students, including Ben's schoolboy crush Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), and is lead by MIT professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey). Ben finds himself to be a whiz kid at this card counting business and starts raking in the cash, meanwhile abandoning his best friends (one played by Josh Gad channeling an unfunny version of Jack Black) and his studious lifestyle of old. Shenanigans prevail and sooner or later, Ben finds himself in deeper than he can handle.
Where the film falls flat is undeniably in it's writing. There's an old Hollywood adage that says you can't make a good movie out of a bad script and this is no more true than in the case of "21". The film seems to force the concepts behind card counting and blackjack on the audience through unnatural speeches that divulge too much of the info through the dialogue. For instance, Campbell is explained how Blackjack is played early in the movie, but this crash course of game rules seems more intended for the audience than for Ben and thus it fits weirdly in the movie. The script also is chock full of one-liners that fall flat on their face. The opening line is "winner, winner, chicken dinner" and there are other magical nuggets of word wizardry sprinkled throughout like "you were born for this," or "In Las Vegas, you can become anyone you want." And not to mention that the nerd jokes - "We almost had a girl at our party!" - become decreasingly funny after the second one.
The movie also seems to suffer from a cinematic and directorial standpoint. Director Robert Luketic, whose other efforts include "Legally Blonde" and "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton," doesn't know when to stop using slow motion. The movie probably wouldn't be, or feel, as long as it did if there hadn't been such a ridiculous amount of slow motion. There was slow motion everywhere to the point where it became so diluted and lost its power as a device. Luketic also decides to sprinkle in heavy use of montage that, when juxtaposed to the melodramatic scenes in between, serves only to remind of the touching scene in "Zoolander" that results in a montage of frappuchino drinking and gas fighting.
"21" tries to be complex in its story and its themes and motifs but along the way it forgot what it should've been about a team of young geniuses scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars from Las Vegas super casinos. Instead, the film spends much of it's time trying to elevate itself above a generic heist movie. The mistake in this, however, is that most moviegoers are there to see a heist movie. Luketic devotes so much of the 2 hour running time trying to build up Ben's world to the audience that the money making card counting scheme gets relegated to slow motion montage.
There was little that I enjoyed about "21" save for the bright neon lights of the Las Vegas strip making for some beautiful shots of the glowing city. It's a shame that the film came out as it did because it featured a cast capable of so much more and a story that had potential to dazzle audiences. But instead, the movie lost itself in trying to be more than what it was and transformed into a monster of bad pacing and over emphasized emotions. "21" was trying to bet the house but unfortunately for itself and audiences alike, it only came out busted.
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