21 (2008) Poster

(2008)

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5/10
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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6/10
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.

6/10
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2/10
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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8/10
"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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7/10
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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1/10
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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3/10
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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8/10
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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7/10
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.

-7/10
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