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Not The Movie It Could Have Been
TheRationalist31 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was based on a true story, and if the makers had stuck closer to the true story it could have been a much better movie. But no, they had to Hollywoodize it and dumb it down so that anyone with the least knowledge of the game of blackjack and how casinos operate will be saying "No way" to themselves all through the movie. It actually ends up with a chase scene and characters running through the kitchen, for God's sake.

In real life the team's success was 90% in being careful to not attract the attention of the casinos detectors and only 10% in their scheme, which was based on the well-known technique of card-counting to get an edge. In the movie, the team's actions were childishly crude even to the point of continually returning to the same casino...so the movie makers could develop the characters of the casino bad guys. In real life the team was careful to not win much at any one table or at any one casino, not more than $1,000 a session, which would be well within the amount any lucky player might win without counting. In the movie they hit the same table for tens of thousands of dollars, which would have set off alarms all over Nevada. Even the hand signals the team used in the movie were childishly obvious. All this by the supposedly brilliant MIT students and professor. No way.

The movie actually had the bad casino guys torturing card counters when they caught them. No way. In real life a casino has the right, tested in court, to kick anyone out and ban them from ever playing again...they do not have to prove cheating or card-counting, they do it under the laws of trespassing on their private property and this is what they do. Remember, card-counters are only making what amounts to an hourly wage, so they are not a serious threat to a casino.

Another example of the Hollywood treatment was that after showing how brilliant Ben was at counting cards when they were recruiting him, he was not used as the card counter, he was used as the big bettor and one of the female team members did the counting.

an entertaining movie for someone not knowledgeable or much interested in real life casino gambling, but dumb and dumber for those who are.
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Nothing new, but it's worth the watch
Kristine3 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
21 is definitely the major film for the spring time, it has young hot actors, including an incredible academy award winner, Kevin Spacey, and another great actor who's head looks like it grew quite a bit bigger, Lawarence Fishburne. So it has all the key ingredients for a good movie, a decent plot, over all a good combination of actors, and looks like a well put together movie. So I saw it this weekend and I have to say that I was a little disappointed, I think this movie was more for the teenagers, with the actors and the rating, I think it should've been more adult. It was a typical rise and fall story with cliché'd characters. Kevin Spacey, seriously my favorite actor, he's always a dead on hit with every role he takes on, but he seemed to just sleep his way through the film and didn't really care about it. He and new and hot up-comer, Jim Sturgess were not a bad couple on screen, but were not strong enough to hold the story into something original.

Basically we have Ben Campbell who needs $300,000 for Harvard Med. School, he's extremely gifted with numbers, so when his professor, Micky Rosa notices his gifts, he invites Ben with a group of his other students to go to Vegas and play 21. But there is a way to beat the game apparently, by counting cards. Ben promises up and down that it is just for school, but of course when he gets so hot, he takes it way further and ends up making a huge mistake and gets caught with some nasty security guards you don't wanna mess with.

Now 21 has decent enough acting, the movie itself is decent, I didn't mind at all watching it. For the most part, it's the young group of students that keep the movie interesting and keeps your attention. My main problems are for example about the characters Ben and Jill hooking up, I seriously doubt that would happen for real, but for the movie, they want these two hotties to get together at least for the teenage audience's sake. Also supposedly the group says they have to stay on the down low in Vegas so they don't get caught, yet they go around Vegas buying all these new clothes, clubbing, drinking, etc. 21 is worth the watch, but to be honest, if you're reading this, wait for the rental, it's just a regular rise and fall story.

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Doesn't even work as a fairytale
Rogue-321 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I was intrigued by the preview of 21 because I'm a sucker for films about gambling, and this is a film about gambling ~ it's the director/writers gambling with our intelligence, hoping we're completely devoid of brainpower, which would make us stupid enough to buy any of the claptrap we see on screen in this bonafide turkey.

The beginning is good, it's only when the true fun should be starting - when Ben starts going to Vegas as part of the blackjack team headed by Micky (Kevin Spacey) - that the movie begins to seriously fall apart.

Vegas is a huge town, with literally hundreds of casinos, but these clowns wind up going back to the SAME casino, over and over, using the SAME signals to one another (their ridiculous signal to indicate a hot table, for instance), until it's more than blatantly obvious to the security overseer, Laurence Fishburne, that these stooges are playing a very dangerous - and stupid - game.

The story then continues on its deathtrail of stupidity, with the storyline and the characters' behavior becoming more and more ridiculous until Ben - duhhhh - loses Everything and has to - double duhhhh - find a way to outsmart Micky (a 2-year-old could outsmart this guy) and get his life back together. The way it's done is even stupider than what proceeds it, what with Ben luring Micky back to the SAME casino for one last shot at the Big Money. "They'll know us there," Micky says, "So we'll have to wear disguises." Oh yeah, genius - a cowboy hat and fake mustache really make Spacey look like a totally different person (not), and even stupider --- they show up using the SAME signals that they've used all along; yes, these giboneys are that dumb.

Then, to insult the audience even further, the writers tack on what they believe, in their deluded states, to be a double surprise ending. By this time, the only surprise is that anyone is still left in the movie theatre.
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"Winner Winner Chicken Dinner"
Lechuguilla28 March 2008
Slick camera work and some good performances rev up the technical quality of this fact-based story about a 21 year old MIT student named Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) who, along with his brainy Ivy League chums, travels to Vegas to win tons of money at the blackjack tables. Their sleazy math professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), leads the group. Rosa has devised an elaborate and conspiratorial card counting scheme that consists of code words and hand gestures. With all that preparation, the group's scheme does work ... for a while. And in the process, the shy, cautious Ben, who only wants the money for tuition costs, morphs into his alter ego, a person quite unlike his original self.

The film's pace starts off leisurely, then alternates between fast-paced Vegas casino action and periods of downtime wherein Ben and his girlfriend, fellow conspirator Jill (Kate Bosworth), talk shop and take in the high life. The story does have a villain, but it may not be who you think it is.

The script's dialogue is snappy and hip, and contains minimal tech jargon. "Variable change" is one such math term, and it has thematic implications toward the end, as the story twists and turns in ways that may surprise you. And "winner winner, chicken dinner" is the group's lingo for gambling success.

Production design is realistic and lavish; this is a big budget film. Color cinematography, by DP Russell Carpenter, is polished and slick. There are lots of elaborate camera dissolves and close-ups. The best parts of the film are the close-ups of the characters at the blackjack tables. Film editing coincides with plot pacing, and ranges from slow to super fast. Acting is all-around good. Kevin Spacey gives his usual topnotch acting job; Sturgess and Bosworth also give fine performances.

It's not a perfect film. Background music was noisy and rather nondescript for my taste. And I could have wished for more card playing, and less time spent on Ben's college buddies in the first Act; the result is that the film gets off to a slow start. Still, the script is credible, and stays close to its book source "Bringing Down The House" by Ben Mezrich.

Thematically relevant in today's world of greed and materialism, "21" is a terrific film, one that has greater import than other films, because the events in "21" really happened. And the fine performances and polished visuals enhance the overall look and feel, to create a film that is both engaging and entertaining.
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Entertaining but very cliché.
Cocacolaguy912-221 April 2008
21 is worth seeing on a restless Friday or Saturday night with friends, but it isn't anything more than that. The film features nice performances from actors Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne, as well as nice entries from the lesser known ensemble.

However, it doesn't take a film expert to notice some of the more...awful lines. "That's is impressive software."...come on, seriously? Just bad writing.

And the flow of the plot is painfully cliché, up until the end where things are admittedly pretty unpredictable. The ending was unexpected, but it worked and made up for earlier plot points that were predictable.

"21" is entertaining, that's it. Nothing more, nothing less.
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Inspired by the true story? Come on...
compaq244 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Before making a movie about blackjack and card counting it would have been a good idea to read some of hundreds of books on this subject available in any major bookstore. That would have prevented the creators of this movie to look like a bunch of ignorant fools totally lacking even general knowledge of the game of blackjack, card counting and casino's countermeasures. Here is why:

1. Nowadays blackjack is played with 4-6-8 deck shoes cut in the middle (or 2/3 at best), which makes the player's edge (if any) so small, that making any profit is mathematically possible only in the long run. It means that no matter how favourable the count is, you chances of winning a particular hand are increased by such a small percentage, that before making any profit you may be losing many hands and even suffer substantial financial losses. Only if you are ready for losing streaks in the process and patient, and if you don't make mistakes with count and basic strategy, you may be winning in the long run. Coming to Vegas for a weekend and making fortune by winning all the time is an absolute nonsense.

2. To prevent card counters from making money casino's security personnel do not abduct them in the middle of a crowded casino, torture them in the back office and take away their winnings - casinos simply ban card counters. Casinos in the US are legally private clubs: they don't charge admission fee and it's up to them to decide who will be allowed to enter the club. Since card counting is not illegal (it's just a skill), nor casino security, nor law enforcement can arrest anybody for it without serious consequences like losing casino license and possibly serving jail time. Not all casinos ban card counters, but those which don't changed blackjack rules to the degree that card counting would not overcome house edge.

3. Besides blackjack related issues a person who keeps more than 300 grand cash in his dorm room can only be seen as a complete idiot. Obviously depositing this money in a bank account in the US could have caused problems with IRS, money laundering regulations, etc., but renting a bank safe deposit box could have solved the problem altogether. The image of a brilliant MIT student acting like a retard doesn't make any sense and makes me question the intellectual level of the screenplay writers.

Conclusion: stay away from this movie - don't degrade yourself by watching it.
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21 Leaves out Elements of the Book, Adds New Excitement
waltboyisme10226 March 2008
After Reading Ben Mezrich's "Bringing Down the House", upon which this movie is based, I was excited to the movie. I am usually let down by movies that are based on books, but that was not the case this time.

Although there were a handful of cliché parts of the movie, all in all it was excellently done. The visual effects were well done, and the acting on the part of Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, was exemplary. Some people may criticize Spacey for his 'gusto', but I believe his portrayal of Mickey was stellar.

The movie had suspense, a solid plot line, scattered funny scenes, and a good ending. The people I went with, none of whom had read the book, found it an even better movie than I did. If you like the movie enough, I recommend reading the book for a more complete story.
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Try your luck elsewhere
stryker112112 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The true story of six MIT kids who try to fleece Vegas is embellished to say the least in "21." There's lots of added drama, a heap of unintentional campiness, plot twists you can see coming down the Strip, and a love story thrown in for the hell of it. This flick was made for the MTV set...the mechanics of how these kids actually count cards to beat the system is explained quickly but not well. I'm probably an idiot (and I haven't read the book upon which the movie is based) but I still don't get it. This movie makes the "how" not really matter anyway. Why explain boring old math when you can have montages of our ethnically diverse group of spoiled geniuses bar hopping and shopping at Louis Vuitton? If you've seen the trailers than you know 21...there are no surprises here. There is a long running time that makes the last 30 minutes of the film agonizing. There's a few ham-fisted plot twists and double crosses and I kept expecting the movie to end...then WHAM, another scene of our lead character back at the tables in a cheesy disguise and more slow motion shots of the dealer flipping cards.

Sturgess is barely passable as Ben...he doesn't quite have the magnetism to pull off the various emotional shadings required of the role. There are parts where he underplays emotion and parts where he overplays them...he never really finds a medium. "21" would have been great ten years ago; give me Giovanni Ribisi in the Ben role and you have something cooking. But Sturgess is pretty blah...so is Kate Bosworth, who looks a lot like Priscilla Presley and nothing like a college student. The only two actors worth a damn here are Spacey, the acerbic ringleader of the young card counters, and the underused Jacob Pitts, who helps recruit Ben into the group.

21 does well to show the all-night-long decadence of Vegas, and there are some beautiful shots of the Strip at night. Otherwise the flick is by-the-numbers garbage.
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Just as predictable yet enjoyable as the game depicted
pyrocitor2 April 2008
Considering the risky pleasure generally associated with gambling and the seductive thrill of watching a heist or scam unfold, it should come as no surprise that 21, a film which combines the two aforementioned premises should excel at being enjoyable. And while the film may be very familiar ground to anyone with in any experience with Ocean's Eleven style crime capers, and the majority of the film's plot points verge on being almost laughably predictable, it is executed with enough exuberant flair to make it worthwhile in the midst of its formula.

A slow start gives the necessary exposition as to how a thoroughly ethical young MIT student (Sturgess)'s desperate need for money to attend Harvard medical school leads him to join a team of mathematical geniuses trained in blackjack card counting who routinely rip off Las Vegas casinos during weekends between class. However, this opening proves overlong, overly predictable, and largely unnecessary, dragging far too much before plunging into the film's real fun as Sturgess and his team are engulfed by the seductive glamour of Vegas and the thrill of the huge monetary takes. Some judicious editing, clearing away such unnecessary subplots (such as a robotics competition with Sturgess' tiresomely stereotypical nerdy friends) could have resulted in a far more streamlined and faster paced film.

Some viewers may take offence to the "Hollywoodizing" of the MIT team, with team members of different ethnicity largely shoved to the background in favour of the typically gorgeous Caucasian leads, a disconcertingly common practice in modern day cinema. However, the flashy MTV style cinematography and editing ably capture the engrossing spectacle of Vegas, and once the film gets going, it would be difficult to deny the sheer enjoyment of being swept up in the heady rush of quick wealth and all of its hedonistic trappings.

The film's quality cast add credulity to the frequently underwritten characters they portray. Jim Sturgess once again impresses as the ethical math prodigy slowly corrupted by a world of superficial glamour, his endearing charm putting an intriguing enough take on the "troubled but well meaning hero" archetype. As one might expect, Kevin Spacey effortlessly steals the show as the charismatic but ruthless professor managing the MIT card counting team, and Spacey's easygoing yet commanding presence is a profound boost to the film. Kate Bosworth contributes a typically flat performance, but given her token 'inevitable love interest' role, she fails to detract much from the film's overall quality. Lawrence Fishburne adds class, much needed dramatic weight and moments of grim humour to his antagonistic burly head of casino security, gradually catching on to the MIT team's scamming.

While the age old adage of 'style over substance' certainly holds true here, 21 may essentially epitomize the modern Hollywood crime caper film, but the formula hasn't quite run dry enough to overly detract from the enjoyment factor. The film's snappy visuals and strong casting are mostly enough to make up for a largely uninspired and frequently weak script. However, fans of similar works will not be disappointed, and for those willing to forgive the film's frequent delving into the wells of convention and accept entertainment over profundity, 21 should prove an ideal watch.

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A bad Hollywood movie based the book "bringing down the house"
Piccahoe10 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This movie wasn't even close to the book, "bringing down the house".It was a typical Hollywood movie which mass stereotypes of nerd genius who talk about irrelevant things and can't get a girlfriend. I'm no genius myself but my brother's girlfriend's brother is a genius and he has a girlfriend.I don't why but this bother me more then the fact that there were only two Asian on the team. I'm kind of glad that there was an Asian guy and girl that didn't really fit the typical Asian stereotype...Expect for the Asian guy being really cheap..but, I laughed at that...because I'm Asian myself and I'm cheap along with my family =x. If you want a better thrill about genius college student who use their talents, then you should dump the movie and read book.

BTW, in the book, the main character did have a girlfriend before all this happened =).
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21 A Bad Shuffle of a Superb Nonfiction Classic
mike87231 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
21 is a poor version of Ben Mezrich's best-selling 2002 Bringing Down the House. The original story is about five Asian MIT students who walked off with $3 million card counting at various casinos around the country, beginning in the early nineties.

The movie makers have constructed a half-baked love story that isn't actually in the book. With the romantic intrusion, the thriller aspect of the original is lost. The book may have been tricked up a little. But 21, the movieseems bent on helping casino ecurity Bull Laurence Fishburne keep his image intact and that of the Vegas casinos unblemished. Because the characters appear to be playing in real Las Vegas casinos, at least at times, it looks as if producers may have cut a deal with Vegas to soften both Fishburne's tough guy image and minimize embarrassment the Casinos suffered at the hands of the merry MIT crew.

In the book, the casinos and their pit bosses and security people were clods who never caught onto a thing for over six years. The movie hasn't got time for that long a wait. Fishburne is suspicious of lead Ben Campbell almost instantly.

Here's a major myth that grew up in the seventies that the book explodes: Casinos spread the story that once multi-decks were placed in shoes, card counting wouldn't work anymore. In fact, multi-decks actually improved odds for counting players by lengthening the period of time that dealer's hands stayed hot for players and cold for dealers.

In the film the MIT crew does all its work in Vegas. In the book, the MIT gang went to riverboats around Chicago, to Louisiana and Missisippi Indian casinos and even overseas to Monte Carlo and Cannes.

In the film, Kevin Spacey is an MIT math prof who spearheads the Casino Con and enlists his own students to be his players. A college girl is in love with the hero Ben Campbell. In reality, all of the players were Asians who wore disguises and masqueraded as rich orientals out to blow big money at the tables. Mickey(Spacey), the crew leader and organizer is not an MIT prof but a professional gambler.

The movie constructs a fiction that Campbell only wants to make $300,000 to finance his education at Harvard as a doctor. The truth is the real Jeff Ma never went to Med School and never wanted to. Ma and the four orientals who took down Vegas, worked the various casinos for nearly ten years and only gave it up when most casinos in the country had identified them and they could no longer play.

Somewhere in the middle of the book Mickey and the Ben Campbell character modeled on Jeff Ma split, and begin running separate teams in the casinos. The movie has Mickey (Spacey) fingering Ben and his team to Casino Security. That would have exposed Mickey too. Its absurd. In fact, though there was some minor bad blood after the split, it was in the interests of both teams to keep quiet about one another.

In the book, the players wore disguises always and changed them often so they wouldn't be recognized when they returned to the same casinos. The movie talked of disguises but Ben never actually wore won except once. It made no sense. He'd have been caught on the second visit without a disguise. In the film, one of the hand signals to tip the Ben to the 'hot' blackjack table, was so blatantly obvious, no pit manager or security bull could have missed it.

The movie left two nerdy friends of Ben Campbell's lurking around MIT clueless about Ben's weekend table action. Those characters and the plots around them were lame. The whole college crosscut was so weak they might just as well have eliminated it altogether. Trying to merge the college weekdays and weekend gambling simply didn't play. Campbell (Jim Sturges) was supposed to have been half-enticed into the ring by his yen for fellow student Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth). But the romance seemed half-hearted once underway. The book knew better. The deceptions and nearly being caught by security time after time took up all the action and made the book a unique thriller.

Movie makers constructed a supposed collusion between Campbell and Security Bull Fishburne to get even with Mickey. The tacked on ending was so absurd anyone could see through it. In fact, Jeff Ma and the four fellow MIT students worked the casinos for nearly ten years and were well into their thirties before they quit. Only near the end of that time were they thoroughly caught, identified and forced to stop. I'm not sure any of them even graduated from MIT.

Spacey and Fishburne give routine performances as if they couldn't take the film seriously. I wonder why? In the washroom afterward I told two twenty somethings what a pack of lies the film was and gave them the book title so they could read the true story. 21 could have been a remarkable film in the hands of a writer-director like Dave Mamet. The film was marekt designed as a cross between Wedding Crashers and a bad Adam Sandler movie. A few of the six college students behind me kept mistaking ordinary lines as American Pie easy laughs, but the rest of the audience stayed silent.

The Filmmakers, who are not worth mentioning, destroyed a perfectly wonderful story that could have been a great movie. They doubled down in duplicity.
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Tiringly Straightforward
tubby13 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
21 does not generate the thrills or excitement associated with the casino world. It is very laborious effort with an all too predictable tale.

Kevin Spacey adds a bit of glamour to the film but even he suffers from the films ineptitude of style and direction. The mathematical geniuses employed to make lots of money playing blackjack are cocksure (which they are meant to be) but they are decidedly unappealing protagonists (if that is what you deem them to be) . Jim Sturgess is the strongest of the cast and makes the most of a tame story.

The film does not entertain and focuses very much on the all too cumbersome teenage themes of money, love and friendship. This is sadly a tired, wearisome and sluggish creation.
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Lindsey Pankhurst5 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There are three kinds of bad movies. The kind that you'll see for free on HBO or the like if you're bored enough, the kind that are so bad they're actually funny and worth the occasional viewing, and then the kind that you never want to see again. 21 is the latter. And the only reason it got a two instead of a one was Kevin Spacey since he was the only interesting part of the whole movie.

You know those movies that leave you with the feeling of "thank god that's over"? Well, 21 goes above and beyond in terms of bad moviedom and found a way to rob us of that nice, warm, and lovely feeling of accomplishment for managing to sit through the whole thing. Among the incredibly numerous cliché's in this film you find the hero of course getting everything he ever wanted in life at the end yet for some reason the director decided to play "You Can't Always Get What You Want" during the wrap up portion and credits of the movie. Now I am all for movies that make you think and have a big message at the end but playing "You Can't Always Get What You Want" while the main character is going over in detail how he did get everything he wanted is like saying violence is bad while shooting someone repeatedly in the head, it just doesn't work.

There was one thing I will give the movie. It's predictable. I love the comfortable feeling of knowing that I will be able to predict the course of each and every scene two seconds in to them. I can't stand it when the scene where the main character becomes estranged from his best friends due to varying reasons depending on the movie that are usually incredibly childish springs on me from left field, especially when its followed by the scene showing him losing his cool and doing something stupid, I hate seeing that coming! And I wouldn't have been so touched by his mom offering him $68,000.00 dollars to pay for college if it hadn't been painfully obvious she was about to do so. And of course who would want to not know without even having to think that he was going to refuse the money and make up a lie about why he was because he was ashamed of himself? Because of course no one likes original work, we need more clichés damn it! More story arcs and more recycled characters we all have seen god knows how many times!! I will cease this ragging after I bring up one more point. At the end, surprise surprise, there is a case scene of the main characters running away from the casino security. *SPOILERS* the main character Ben gives the bag of chips to Spacey's character and split up to ditch the guards. Later Spacey opens the bag and its all fake chips and they justify this by showing Ben and his girlfriend Jill switching bags but the problem with that is simple, there was no time. From the moment that Ben had the bag to the point he gave it to Kevin he was with Kevin every step of the way and the shot of the switch they're in a bathroom or some kind of hall, calm and taking their time. It again just doesn't work.

I'll admit I didn't have the highest hopes ever for the movie but I had expected it to be better then this. Just keep this in mind if you're thinking about seeing 21, you have seen this movie. You have seen it many times with many different names. But you have in fact seen it. I promise you.
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much better than you would expect!!
madciderhead-15 February 2008
I was lucky enough to see this film for free at a special screening in greater London as part of a market research by the film industry. even though it was free i would have paid good money to see that film. but I was presently surprised about how good the film was and everyone seemed to agree that the film was really good. I thought it made the card playing parts actually riveting even though i am not a card player myself. i thought the acting performances were all good especially that of Kevin Spacey's. In terms of the story. In many ways it reminded me of all the good things that was in the BBC TV show hustle. But in a much more real way. On the down side, you may see the ending coming and there is a romance part of the film that feels unnecessary. However it is a very slick film that gets away with it. I would say that it clearly the best film in this genre of film. I enjoyed it more than films such as Confidence and the Oceans 11 type films. I would highly recommend it to anybody when it eventually comes out in April!! I would have thought that they would cut down and re-edit it a bit on the basis that it was quite long. however it kept my attention for the whole film and that is not something that is also done during these sorts of films
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I have to agree with Max-787 on this one.
Carycomic29 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I went to see this movie, earlier this afternoon, because Kevin Spacey and Lawrence Fishburne were in it. And, any film in which they appear is pretty good, more often than not. This film, however, was one of the "not's."

I mean; the premise was initially intriguing. And, some of the banter thrown about, by the various characters, was surprisingly somewhat funny! But, past the ninety-minute mark, I began to get bored. I actually ceased caring about Ben Campbell!

His gradual transformation from "the Anakin Skywalker of MIT" to "the Darth Vader of black-jack" was so predictable, to describe the rest of the film as "less-than-riveting" would be putting it charitably. So, I walked out. Completely uninterested in knowing whether or not Ben got the girl and/or the Harvard medical scholarship. Nor will I waste any money on the eventual DVD to find out.

In short: the early promise shown by this movie gets broken really fast. And, not even Messrs. Spacey and Fishburne can change that.
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Good, but not Great
JustCuriosity9 March 2008
This film screened at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. It is a reasonable well-made based-on-a-true-story film that tells the story of a group of MIT students who attempt to make a fortune counting cards in Vegas. The screenplay apparently plays pretty fast-and-loose with the version told in the book. Never-the-less, the acting is excellent - especially Jim Sturgess in the role of the lead student. Honestly, his accent was so good that I didn't realize - until he came on stage afterward - that he was British. He does a great job with the mannerisms to give you a real sense of the character's evolution. Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne are solid - although Fishburne's role is fairly small. The minor characters are not as well-developed as they could have been. The cinematography of both Boston and Las Vegas is quite good, especially on the big screen. It's an interesting story, but they could have edited down a bit to make it move a little quicker. This is a good film, but it probably could have been a lot better.
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Slick, Entertaining But Far From Reality
ccthemovieman-130 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed the movie because it was entertaining all the way. It was slick and had interesting characters. The only problem was the last half of it where credibility when flying out the window. The movie is all about supposedly very intelligent people, led by the smartest of the all the group, the only veteran in this college age-dominated cast: "Professor Mickey Rosa," played by Kevin Spacey. Well, Rosa would not do what he did here, for starters, meaning trusting an untrustworthy and revenge-seeking kid. If you've seen the movie you know what I mean. The others in the group wouldn't go along with the renegade - "Ben Campbell" (Jim Sturgess) - either. There is no way this kid is going to totally outsmart the professor, but it makes for good Hollywood dramatics.

There are a bunch of other holes, too, such as wanting to be anonymous but going back to the same place; a ridiculous chase scene through the casino gambling area and kitchen; hand signals that a junior detective could see (and are never changed!) and - maybe the worst - winning tons of money in sessions. Nobody with half a brain would win much at any session, because it draws attention. You win a little here, a little there and go from place-to-place and remain anonymous. This movie is based on a true story, and I can guarantee you that's what the MIT students did in real life - not what you see here.

Still, facts aside, it's still a fun movie to watch and since entertainment is the name of the game with films, it succeeds and I still give it an "8" star rating for that. At no time was I bored and overly insulted at the dumbness that I would have stopped playing the DVD. It will hold your interest and you'll be thoroughly entertained, especially if you don't know a lot about blackjack and how casinos operate.

Oh, as a postscript: they don't beat up "card counters" in back rooms of casinos. If they think you are counting cards, which I don't believe is illegal, they still have the right to kick you out of their establishment.....but they ask you nicely and you are removed from the floor with no big scene or violence. They have your picture, there are security people everywhere, and you aren't allowed back.

So, enjoy the film but don't believe the screenplay.
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one tired old cliché after another in a movie that had me looking at my watch every ten minutes for the entirety of the second and third acts
TheUnknown837-118 December 2009
"21" is one of those movies where if you are only looking for an investment where all the dollar value was put into the visual presentation and not a dime was spent on the story, it's right up your alley. If you like movies that are eye-rolling in their idiocy but make up for it with oh-so-popular clichés, it will suit you, as it did the majority of my generation. But if you are like me, where you realize that the story and the integrity of a picture is most important, then "21" is nothing but sheer boredom. Just as a measure of my ennui, I didn't have high expectations, but I looked at my watch for the first time at the forty-five minute mark. And my eyes shot back there every ten minutes for the remaining one-point-two-five remaining hours of the film before the credits finally rolled and I unleashed a big sigh of relief. The torture was over.

"21" is also one of those movies that assumes that just because it's based on a true story that it's automatically going to be gripping. Well, documentaries are the same and I've seen some documentaries that were flat-out boring as well. It all depends on the quality. And in terms of its visual presentation, "21" works. But where it really counts, in the story, in the characters, in the timing, it falls before it even takes off. It's about a Harvard professor (Kevin Spacey) who enlists the top students in his classes to travel to Vegas for the weekends to "count cards" at the casinos and make millions. The latest recruit is a stereotypical dweeb well-played by Jim Sturgess who needs money to pay for tuition. And what follows is just one tired old cliché after another.

There was hardly a moment in "21" that I could not predict. It's just the standard rise and fall story with the same old morals about pride and greed. Once again, we have the dweeb with talent but no money. Things go well at first, then he goes over his head, things go bad, his hot girlfriend gets ticked off at him, so on and so forth. I knew right off the bat the sort of mentor-student relationship that Spacey and Sturgess would have. I knew that Sturgess would have a pretty girl (Kate Bosworth) smiling at him from the corner of the screen. I knew there would be a moment where somebody just blows it and…well, you get my point.

Most premises, even clichéd premises, can work out if they are done right. But "21" is not done right. The look of the picture is good, the directing is acceptable, the acting is quite good, but the story, the characters, the energy of the picture, the believability, it all just goes out the window, or should I say, into the card dealer's pocket. And it's our money they're snatching unfairly away from us. It's got the look of a professional picture, but is just as fun as watching a gambler's home videos. "21" is not a worthy investment.
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Not so much like the book or the real-life story but a terrific movie!
rhstoo27 March 2008
I had the really cool opportunity to see an advance screening of "21" tonight. Having read the book when it first came out, I was a bit skeptical about whether it would translate well. I couldn't have been more pleased. Was it the same as the book? Of course not (except for The Green Mile, what was?) But it was action-packed, smart, fun, well-acted, well-directed, and just plain enjoyable. Spacey, Fishburne, and Bosworth are at the top of their games and Jim Sturgess is going to be a star. The visuals were great, the editing sharp, and the score right on point. I don't know whether to stay up all night re-reading the book or hop on a plane for Las Vegas to try to win while I still halfway remember the counting system. I enjoyed this as much as any light fare I have seen in a long time. I love George Clooney, but "21" is an order of magnitude better than any of the "Oceans" movies.
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Entertaining but with major problems
Mccadoo15 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Let me begin by saying that I haven't read the book this movie is "based on" so I went in with no pre-conceived expectations. I enjoyed the movie, it was definitely worth a night at the movies however, I had some major issues with it that really detracted from my viewing enjoyment and yes, I know it's just a movie, but when things occur in a movie that's based on actual events that yank me out of the flow of the plot that's a problem. Things that jumped out at me were; The main character is supposed to be a genius and yet he hides over $300,000 in his ceiling?? No one is that stupid. Especially since there was no need for him to hide it at all; he won it gambling in Vegas, where gambling is legal, hello? He would have had to pay taxes on it but all he had to do was declare it as gambling winnings and open a bank account, or better yet, a short term CD to earn some interest. What did he plan to do, drop $300,000 in cash on the Dean of Admissions desk at Harvard Medical School? That would have gotten the IRS down on him in a heartbeat. It just didn't make any sense and was an incredibly stupid and unbelievable move.

The group was counting cards which is not illegal but will get you banned from any casino that catches you. I would think they would have wanted to keep a very very low profile so they didn't attract attention. Wasn't that why they wore disguises? And yet, they stayed in suites, walked into the casinos greeting everyone by name like high rollers, they did everything they possibly could TO call attention to themselves. Again, it just didn't make any sense.

Vegas casino's are all owned by major corporations these days, the days of the mob running the casinos are long over. Casino security does not beat people up over counting cards anymore, they haven't for a very long time. They escort you off the property and ban you and that's all. The main character could have filed a complaint with the Nevada Gaming Commission (because again, he hadn't done anything illegal), and the casino would have had a lot of questions to answer.

The main character's mother offers him a check for $68,000 for medical school, telling him that she's been saving it for years for him so he could go to medical school. So she obviously didn't pay for MIT if she's been saving for years for this, how did he pay for MIT? I assumed he'd gotten scholarships but they never tell you one way or the other.

Kevin Spacey's character steals his money and is going to see that he doesn't graduate, huh? Again, the main character hasn't done anything illegal, other than not declaring his winnings and paying taxes on them. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that the powers that be at MIT would take a very dim view of one of their professors acting the way Spacey's character did. All our hero had to do was go to them and spill his guts, I'm sure he could have gotten at least one or two of the others to back him up, probably the guy Spacey had already bounced from the team. He also could have gone to the police and reported the theft of the money in his room, OK, so he would have been in a little hot water with the IRS, but he would have kept at least a large portion of the cash.

Casinos don't usually comp luxury suites to big winners, more often to big losers so they'll keep coming back. They want the big winners to go elsewhere. And we're back to the low profile thing again.

There are a great many casino's in Vegas, if your trying to get away with counting, why would you go back to the same one (the Hardrock) again and again? Those are just the ones that come to mind at the moment. Again, I did enjoy the movie, but my enjoyment was tempered by the things I've listed above that were, in the end, kind of an insult to the viewers intelligence.
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Following the story in the book would have been better.
JP6 April 2008
OK, first what I liked about it. I like just about any movie about Vegas--and this one did a good job of bringing the flash to you--especially that first plane ride in at night--kind of makes you tingle. I liked must of the "true" parts of the story--i.e., the true anecdotes lifted from the book, like the test at the local illegal blackjack room. The best friends (total fiction) were cute and made for some comic relief.

This COULD have been a really good movie if it followed the true story closer though, rather than having the ridiculous premises that it did. Their was plenty of conflict for the protagonists in the book. Example: having the coed girlfriend at MIT at the same time he was dating an NBA cheerleader! (that was good stuff!) Plenty of contrast in the book too between MIT and Vegas.

Oh well--not the worst movie, not a bad date movie, and some good scenes.
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Nothing funny, nothing sensational, nothing joyful; perhaps a little interesting
Worth to watch for spectacular views from Las Vegas, the movie 21 starts with a "Maverick"ish gambler movie opening. Though, this movie is not even half good as Maverick. We initially see how Jack and Ace forms a lovely couple. Then we meet our leading actor Ben something, the singing frog of the movie "Across the Universe", as a very sharp-witted campus kid trying to persuade the dean of the Harvard Medical School to access student scholarships.

A gambler gang of campus kids leading by Kevin Spacey drives Ben and the others' -including Kate Bosworth as another campus kid- minds over gambling in Las Vegas by means of proved mathematical methods of counting cards. Ben, who must have swallowed a calculator, becomes the smartest one of all. We are witnessing our campus kids how actually they gamble with cheating over cards at a casino. Best thing of the casino scenes are the chance of getting know how the backstage of security cams goes. There are a bunch of technicians trying to catch whoever does cheating on the games.

The actual happenings of the story is hidden behind the script. Accordingly, it forces us to undone the knots. Yet regrettably, the search for straightening the story is just getting boring and boring until the end starts to occur, while leaving mentioned questions unanswered.

Thankfully at the final, knots are getting undone. For five minutes long, while Rolling Stones-You Can't Always Get What You Want is playing, we see how the life takes on shape for each character. Then we end up at where we started; back on the faculty dean's room, Ben is still talking to the dean. Whole movie has passed in this room, we realize. The dean looks persuaded by Ben for his scholarship.
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You'd have more fun going to Vegas... and losing everything
Critomaton29 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"21" bets that it can build on the excitement of the book upon which it is based but busts by going over the top.

Here's how bad this movie was: "Jumper" was more entertaining. 'Nuff said. Need more explanation? OK, here goes but there are lots of spoilers ahead.

The movie is based on the book "Bringing Down The House" by Ben Mezrich. The book is a quick read with a detailed and captivating explanation about how a group of college students, led by their professor, beat the system in Blackjack using knowledge of statistics, memorization techniques, and teamwork. That is, they had a really successful system for counting cards. I found the book compelling.

However, as I read it, I realized it wouldn't translate well into a movie because there just wasn't a lot of action in the traditional sense and it didn't have a "Hollywood" ending; the card-counting team just kind of fell apart and each member went his or her own way. So I was very curious to see how the filmmakers would try to jazz up the story.

Here's the irony: They embellished the story significantly and still managed to produce a tedious, predictable movie that didn't do justice to the characters, setting or tone of the book. I recommend reading the book and skipping the movie.

Here are some of the differences I remember between the movie and the book. Caveat: my memory might be a bit fuzzy here - I read the book a few months ago.

In the movie, there is a scene where a jealous card-counting teammate practically rats out his buddy at the Blackjack table, likening him to the Dustin Hoffman character from Rain Man. This scene is awkward and unbelievable and a far cry from anything in the book. In the book, the tension and dynamics between the teammates were much more subtle, but I guess subtle doesn't work on the big screen.

Apparently, the inexplicable popularity of "Superbad" means there now has to be an incredibly nerdy, weight-challenged, wannabe stand-up comedian in every major studio release. That's a shame. He wasn't funny in "Superbad" and he wasn't funny in "21" (yeah, I know it's not the same actor). Nothing against the weight-challenged, just the blatantly unfunny.

You know a screenplay is weak when the big confrontation between the college student with the double life and his techno-geek buddies occurs because he puts an 8K chip in their science project instead of a 16K chip. Who writes this stuff?

I don't remember the "Ben abandons his nerd buddies" subplot being in the book, but I could be wrong about that. It's pretty trite regardless.

In the book, the team kind of just falls apart, primarily as a result of too many close calls with casino staff and a particular loss prevention specialist. The team also corrodes from within due to jealousy, disillusionment from a few big losses, and resentment that the organizing professor doesn't seem to be taking any of the risk while collecting his reward. Some of the money gets stolen but they're never sure who did it and so the team just kind of dissolves. They try to regroup in various configurations but it doesn't last. Financially, everybody still makes out reasonably well in the end.

In the movie, Ben gets beaten up by the loss prevention consultant (played by Laurence Fishburne), gets all of his money stolen by his professor (played by Kevin Spacey), exacts revenge on the thief by improbably teaming up with LF (who has a personal vendetta against KS), then loses it all again to LF's five-finger pension plan and six-shot revolver. But don't worry, he'll probably get a scholarship to Harvard by wowing the administrator with tales of his wild experiences. I haven't seen a college administrator that wowed by irresponsible behavior since Richard Masur in "Risky Business" (and he had a much better reason). Then again, I guess it's not much different than scoring big by writing a book about it, which actually did happen.

So far, you might be thinking the movie sounds a lot more exciting than the book and I'd have to agree. But somehow it still manages to fall flat on screen.

The book emphasized the team's use of disguises and alternate personalities very well. This was an element of the movie, to be sure, but it seemed very underdeveloped and I was surprised how much more entertaining it was on the printed page than the big screen. Same thing with the initiation scene, Ben's transformation into a "player", his enjoyment of the Vegas VIP life, etc.

In the book, the pursuit by the loss prevention consultant was much more dogged. It wasn't confined to just one or two casinos but went nationwide. The film really didn't capture the determination of the pursuit very well or the number of casinos the team hit.

I could go on and on but, thankfully, IMDb's word limit won't let me. So I'll just mention a few bad things about the movie that have nothing to do with it being based on a book:

1) At 2 hours long, the movie seems very drawn out given its rather shallow treatment of the subject matter.

2) Kevin Spacey seems to have a trademark style. It is menacing yet monotonous - as contrasted with Jack Nicholson's style of menacing and maniacal. Jack's style usually works, sometimes in spite of itself. Kevin's style doesn't seem to be producing memorable performances lately. He's made some great movies, to be sure, but after "21" and "Superman Returns" I'd say he's officially due for a comeback.

Many movies that have strayed from their literary inspirations have been entertaining and worthy in their own right. "21" is most definitely not one of those movies.
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Svae yourself some anguish, watch "The Last Casino" instead.
kevin_shae31 March 2008
Yes, 21 has elements of the wonderful book "Bringing Down the House", but the core of what this bastardized film is was taken from a Canadian film by the name of The Last Casino (2005, Maple Films, Starring Charles Martin Smith, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Albert Chung and Jullian Richings.) In The Last Casino, Professor Barnes is a broken down gambler with a serious debt to be paid. To buy himself more time he trains a group of math students to count cards and earn money for him and ends up biting off more than he can chew and his team can handle. That's about the only major difference between the two films other than big name actors in 21 and the characters in both films. Personally, save yourself the long agonizing trip, go to BlockBuster (Or go online.) and rent The Last Casino. You'll get almost the exact same movie, with better acting, a better presentation from a film made with less money by a better company at likely less than the cost of a theater ticket.

Even Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne aren't enough of a saving grace to make 21 a decent watch to me and many of my film loving compatriots. Call me biased if you want, since I'm Canadian, but I speak the truth.. and you can take that to the bank.
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Waste of time!
billcrooks7 April 2008
I'm pretty easily entertained and I thought this was perhaps the worst movie I've ever seen in the theater. I was intrigued because of the documentary of the MIT group I saw on one of the cable channels (History Ch., Discovery Ch., or something like that). The movie moved entirely way too slow. I can't believe Kevin Spacey decided to be affiliated with this horrific waste of film. Seriously, the documentary was more entertaining than the movie.

I've already spent enough time in the theater on this piece of garbage so I'm not going to write anymore about it...but what a complete waste of a Saturday night this was.
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