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I personally think that Jim Sturgess is a very promising actor. His
stage presence was believable and he has a lot in store for him. Being
a film with Sturgess, Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishbourne, I was
pretty stoked for this film. However, 21 turns out to be quite drawn
out and the trailer for the film seemed more exciting.
The story is inspired by a very popular book called "Bringing Down the House". The main character, Ben Campbell, goes to MIT and need 300,000 dollars to go to med school. To suffice this requirement, he is invited by a group of students to a Blackjack group. He learns the technique of counting cards and goes to Las Vegas every weekend to make money and enjoy the high roller life at the same time.
The premise of the story sounds very interesting. However the story seems to stray to many Hollywood clichés. Despite interesting characters, it can be pretty obvious how the characters affect the plot. The film also incorporate multiple strands of storyline together into one film. The film is built of Ben's experiences in Las Vegas, his relationship with his older friends/his mom, and the security professional who is trying to put an end to the Blackjack Team. Although the transitions between storyline are effective, the side stories aren't very exciting to watch and again it is pretty predictable.
The dialogue is very slick and fluid although I was not completely assured by Sturgess's ability to act and speak in American English. Also, the film doesn't throughly explain the concept of counting cards. I was confused to what he was doing at many points during the film. Also I think it was possible to cut out some of the scenes in the film. It got a little drawn out and wasn't adding much to the overall story plot.
When the ending was nearing, I felt like this was going to end very poorly. It had caused me to temporarily not like any of the characters. However, the film went a little further in the ending than I thought it was going to be and it turned to be a fulfilling ending. Overall, 21 was a bit of a disappointment. Despite the slick dialogue and promising story, it became too predictable and drawn out.
*** This review may contain 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.
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.
"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.
It was OK. That about sums up my reaction to "21." My primary reason
for thinking it was just OK is that the whole thing just didn't ring
true to me, in spite of the claim that it's based on a true story.
Based on what I've read about the movie's background since watching it,
I think I'd describe that as "very loosely based ..." Essentially, the
story is about an MIT student (Ben, played by Jim Sturgess) who needs
$300,000 to attend Harvard Medical School. How's he going to get it?
He's applied for a full scholarship, but although he's brilliant, it's
not looking good. Then , along comes one of his math professors (Kevin
Spacey), who turns out to be a former gambler who's developed a system
for counting cards in Blackjack and then recruits the best and
brightest students at MIT to be his team - he teaches them the system
and they fly to Las Vegas repeatedly to gamble and share their
winnings, until they get caught.
Setting aside the Hollywood deviations from the "true story," I just didn't find this to be all that interesting, nor did I feel any particular sympathy for or closeness to anyone, except maybe Ben's two former best friends, who essentially get the brushoff from Jim once he's embraced his new lifestyle as a high roller. For whatever reason, there was an attempt to build an unnecessary romance into the story between Ben and one of the female gamblers which added nothing to the story. There's a twist near the end that did take me just a little bit by surprise, so I give credit for that, but overall I was disappointed with this. I've certainly seen better (and truer) movies. 4/10
Unless your in the mood for a extremely predictable movie that can be watched mindlessly this is not the movie for you. It consists of watching endless amounts of hands of blackjack which is the most boring card game probably to watch ( I play poker so I am probably biased but I wasn't the only one who said this of the people I was with.) I also found the main character to be annoying with just how awkward he was I dislike all characters in movies who are awkward this always disturbs more than mild violence because I probably can relate to it better. i felt the main character tried way to hard to achieve this role if your looking for a gambling movie definitely just re-watch the classic Rounders.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I enjoy card games and a bit of gambling. I also enjoy movies where a
highly skilled teams steal from a casino or greedy rich person.
Something in me screams yes. So I was interested when 21 came out since
it was based on a book that was based on a true story I thought this
would be a brilliant movie.
A group of MIT students in conjunction with their maths professor go to Vegas, and using a combination of team work and card counting take 100's of thousands from the casinos playing blackjack.
This movie is predictable which I can forgive to some extent because they know what cards are coming, but it's done Hollywood style rather than how it would have played out in real life. Given that this is meant to be based on a true story there is no realism about it. Everyone knows about card counting but the point would be to do it discretely. Everything they do draws attention to them.
Other themes include the conflict with other friends who were entering a science competition, being corrupted by the game but then learning the error of his ways, conflict with the professor who after all gave them the opportunity and a classic Hollywood ending involving a chase sequence and betrayal, and arguments within the team. Whilst on paper this may sound fun, being students makes the story somewhat clichéd.
The plot development is very slow (counting the lights in the cinema) whilst the story delves into the usual student angst of relationships, money and morals. At 120 minutes long the movie focused on that too much when all I want to see was how did they cheat and scam the casinos, and not some flashy Hollywood dumbed down explanation about card counting. This movie could have been easily hacked to 80 minutes leaving the rest for the DVD. My recommendation is to wait for the DVD rental.
Card counting has always intrigued me, and the notion of beating the casino is surely one that appeals to a lot of people, so I was expecting to be entertained by this film. I was wrong, and I suspect a lot of people will be likewise disappointed. I could criticise the one-dimensional characters, the irritating soundtrack, or a Kevin Spacey who came across as an actor who was busy saying his lines, while concentrating on something else entirely, but there's something even more seriously wrong with this film, and it's this: The whole foundation for the movie is blackjack card-counting, yet isn't it astonishing that the fundamental theory for this is never explained. I wasn't expecting an in-depth yawning analysis, but c'mon guys, the explanation is limited to a couple of sentences of blackjack rules, and that's it! Now, having studied card counting, I know what the theory is, and I found the movie dull and boring, so how will anyone who has no knowledge of the technique fare? A waste of time.
This movie was exactly what I thought it would be. A boring plot, no
interesting characters, and "paint-by-numbers" direction. Mainly this
movie just lacked a compelling plot. It was just BORING. I figured it
would boring, but I saw it anyway just because nothing else was playing
at the time.
Aside from being totally boring, there was one particular error that really bothered me. The characters throughout the movie are visiting a variety of casinos in Las Vegas. All kinds of different casinos on the strip, and some of the casinos that are nowhere near the strip, such as the Red Rock Casino. However, no matter where they go, Lawernce Fishburn's character is watching them, and happens to be at the casino they are in no matter when they are there. How did he magically transport himself around the entire Las Vegas valley like that? It was really obvious that the movie makers did not take this into consideration. They just expect you to believe the Fishburns character is inside every casino at all times.
Another thing that bothered me about this movie was the geographic setting of the casinos. I live in Vegas, so I know that the Hard Rock casino is NOT located on the strip, as it was depicted in the movie.
Anyway, this movie sucked, I hated it, and I wish I had not wasted my time seeing it. So, take my advice, and go see a different movie. Hopefully one that has a decent plot.
If there were ever an award for a film so committed at making gambling
seem so unbearably dull then it would go to 21.It plays like a cross
between "The O.C" and "Lucky You" on anit-depressant. Its cast are
barely noticeable providing solid but forgettable performances. Instead
of going all out 21 plays it really safe meaning there isn't much
progressing at all. This is an absolute waste of money for anybody who
isn't committed to sit through two hours of absolute nothing. It even
manages to make gambling boring.
Our lead man, Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) puts up with a dry uninteresting script and tries to make something out of it. Its only real attraction ho0wever are Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey who if you ask me can do a hell of a lot better than this. Its beautifully shot with some spectacular cinematography but like a lot of 2008 outings 21 is a good looking dud that pilots down the runway but never takes off.
Director Robert Luketic adapts Ben Mezrich's best-seller Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions to tell the true-life tale of six genius students who used their brains to beat considerable odds.
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) may be shy, but his wallflower reputation betrays his inner brilliance. As smart as Ben may be, however, if he can't pay his his tuition he'll be kicked out of M.I.T. Fortunately, the answer to all of Ben's problems is right there in the cards.
Recruited to join a team of extremely gifted students who have used their mastery of numbers to beat the odds at blackjack, Ben procures a fake identity in order to join the casino scammers and their brilliant leader -- eccentric math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) -- in some highly profitable weekend excursions to Las Vegas. Counting cards isn't illegal, and by using a complex series of signals, this team has cracked the code.
Of course, it doesn't take long for Ben to become seduced by the glamorous Las Vegas lifestyle, and the attention afforded to him by his sexy teammate teammate Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) finds him pushing his luck to the absolute limits. Laurence Fishburne stars as Cole Williams, the Sin City security chief who catches on to the group and makes it his mission to expose their lucrative blackjack scam.
There isn't much more for me to say only that even if the plot synopsis might excite you really don't bother with it. Its 30 minutes too long, and even at that its one of the dullest outing of 2008. Avoid at all costs.
My Final Verdict? Is that 21 is a poor adaption of Ben Mezrich's best seller and if you're looking for a good gambling film your best off stick to Oceans 11 starring George Clooney. A film that isn't afraid to take chances and that actually manages a few smiles.
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