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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Good god, this is a movie of two halves. The first half is fantastic,
I'll be frank here I pretty much loved it. I hadn't read the book, and
I might if i ever get the chance, but i REFUSE to acknowledge that i
HAVE to read the book to be entertained by a movie. I'm just a regular
movie-goer, I knew about "21" from checking out Now Playing, strolled
into a theatre and went for a ride. The first half was amazing, the
concept was very interesting and keeps you engrossed in. Everyone loves
Vegas/gambling movies... the exciting, high-rolling lifestyle, the
glamor, the fun. Unfortunately it kind of dropped off near the middle,
and completely sank in the end with the textbook Hollywood ending where
the hero "learns a life experience" after screwing up. I heard that the
script was altered from the book, and judging from the popularity I can
only assume the book was really good (and very real), so the
screenwriters should really hang.
Seriously, they killed the movie. After the so-called "twists", it just isn't enjoyable anymore because it becomes predictable and there are plot holes that keep popping up and leaving you in a state of What-The-Eff! I can never understand why the hero (I didn't even bother to remember his name) keeps his money stashed in the ceiling of his room. I'm just surprised his cash wasn't bitten to pieces by mice. There were parts so cringeworthy, that I just couldn't give this movie anything higher than a 5 despite some decent entertainment in the beginning. It gets another point deducted because of the AWFUL acting. The hero's so called "acting" is completely wooden, I didn't know there could be someone more wooden than Paul Walker out there. His concept of being ticked off or disgruntled, is pulling a smirk and then turning his head away. What is he, some 13 year old teenage girl who's just been denied by her parents to go to the party? Even poor Kevin Spacey got dragged through the mud, his character acting completely OTT when his favorite student (the hero) messes up once, losing I think most or all of his money that he brought along, but he goes NUTS. Since all the MIT students acted like high school freshmen (immature babies), I'm surprised he wasn't more tolerant. The only characters to get any credit were the two Asian kids, the girl played a steady consistent role, and Aaron Yoo, although not an Oscar worthy performance, he always has his own unique style and he again plays it successfully here, playing the easy going laid-back guy. Wait a minute, then again I can't remember his character doing anything significant during the gambling either. Strange... I thought the original MIT team consisted of mostly Asian-Americans. Hmm. And the jealous kid, I think his name was Fisher, was so bad that the movie didn't even give a shoot about him after he got kicked out. I thought he might come back for revenge or something but no, he's completely irrelevant. Wow. And what about their disguises in the final scene. The textbook Mr.Potatohead spectacles and moustache. Classy.
So all in all, if you don't mind B-grade acting, a cliché storyline and overlooking painfully obvious plot holes just to get a few cheap Vegas thrills, be my guest. I'm just disappointed because it could've been SO MUCH MORE. Using mathematics (card counting) to beat the system in Vegas, it could've been a classic.
- This review was originally written for South Yorkshire newspapers and
featured on BBC Radio Sheffield, Leeds and York.
In a bid to fund his Harvard education Ben (Jim Sturgess) is persuaded by his college Maths lecturer (Kevin Spacey) to join a team of top students and embark upon a card-counting hustle in Las Vegas. Ben soon casts aside his geek origins and friends when he finds that his maths genius brings him easy money and easier women at the casino Blackjack Tables. 21 is based on a true story, documenting the rise and fall of a handsome college nerd, as he deals with moral dilemmas, his sexual awakening and the lure of being a high roller.
It's great to see that director Robert Luketic has branched out beyond the lurid pink fluffiness of Legally Blonde and got his teeth into something a little more blokey thankfully he proves himself competent at providing sprightly amusement for both sexes. This is just as much enjoyable schmaltz as anything else Luketic has made; only this time it's lit in neon - Vegas style.
The nerd who gets a taste of the cool life has served many a film maker well in the past so it comes as no surprise that Ben's first few Vegas visits provide the film's flightiest scenes. Following this initial buzz, the card playing feels like a missed opportunity. The sheer drama of Blackjack could have been used to great effect, but here screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb have failed to capture any of the game's inherent excitement. As a result, 21's numerous casino scenes are all bright lights and no depth. It's what happens when six mathematical whizzes apply a formula to eliminate surprise and doubt.
Ben's fellow card counting con-artists are two-dimensional caricatures with simple personality traits that provide an immediate sense of character a necessity given their limited screen time. At least their varied wardrobe and Beadle-esquire penchant for daft disguises at the tables ensure that they're fun to be around. Stick-on sideburns, cowboy hats and Hooker wigs are probably not the most proficient means of going unnoticed, even in Vegas, and contrary to the film's 'true story' mantle it does require that you suspend belief. It's not just the outlandish costumes and the contradictory role of Ben's hunky geek that pushes the boundaries of reality either; the film's love interest Jill (Kate Bosworth), happens to be an intellectual who would look more at home on the catwalk or the school's cheerleading squad than hitting the books.
It's testament to the quality of the two young leads that the more far-fetched elements of 21 don't become a grating distraction. Bosworth is sweet, sassy, cool and collected yet sufficiently feisty as the object of Ben's affections. But it's Sturgess who makes the movie. The young Brit, who recently starred in 'That Other Boleyn Girl' (reviewed on these very pages several weeks ago) is like a young John Cusack, having a charismatic, natural appeal that gives the movie a solid heart. Spacey is clearly enjoying himself immensely playing Professor Mickey Rosa, maintaining an undercurrent of menace throughout his role as the team's leader - a father figure that exploits his adopted 'children'. Unfortunately Laurence Fishburne is surprisingly limp as the villain of the piece, playing a security supervisor from the old school, on the brink of being usurped by new technology. He's more of a wet lettuce than a hardened pit boss employed to doll out punishment to cheats and hustlers.
The only truly bad hand that the film plays is during the finale; no amount of bluffing can disguise the obvious con and it plays out unconvincingly. This doesn't tarnish the film too much it deals out plenty of fun for the most part, and it's all wrapped up quickly and with plenty of gusto. As shallow entertainment 21 is a safe bet, but like Vegas, you shouldn't expect to find much in the way of substance behind all the glitz and glamour.
I read the book and appreciated it greatly, i did feel it was a little light (you get to seem some more reality in the actual gambler's short essay in the back) but it at least gave some of the real data behind the cards. the degree at which the game could be mathematically gamed, etc.. The movie doesn't even say what is a low card and a high card. (face cards -1, 2-6 +1) Trying to combine 'Oceans 11' and a lame "perfect-kid getting into college" film into one has produced a bland nothing, you can also see how they changed the main character from a Asian kid to try to make it more appealing, in fact they totally changed the main character in order to make it a a stock rise-and-fall movie. The real life man was actually one of the few who also had a great engineering job while others were relying fully on card counting for their sustenance. And then wrapping the whole thing in the context of a college interview---ewww thats exactally the same thing as that prissy movie Spanglish. They have tried to make it more modern with reference to a job at google and dot-com millionaire. I also hate the direction of incorporating lame corporate-sponsored ad-libs into movie scripts. It humorous the famous personalities in this movie and their roles :)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film 21 was built up in the media and only television to be a great, exciting piece of cinema and sadly it did not live up to that hype. I mean the cinematography of the film was good and so the way the storyline played itself out. Even the card playing scenes were not too bad but the worst thing by far was the two lead actors. Both Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth were awful. The accent of Sturgess was fake and contrived. It was obvious he wasn't an American actor and it ruined the illusion of the film for me. Also Bosworth was stiff, wooden and lacked any real emotion in her performance. She made the character seem hollow and uninvolved with the action. The only saving grace about this film is Kevin Spacey. As per usual he is very good in his role and really makes his character the star of the film. Only a shame he wasn't in it more. To conclude I would have to say that a well written and directed film was fundamentally flawed by 2 leads who just can't act.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Contains all the required and predictable elements, including boy meets girl, good boy turned bad boy turned good boy. This movie is abit confusing, has more elements than necessary to tell an effective story. Unlike THE COOLER (2003) that has a fabulous soundtrack and atmospheric set design and cinematography and careful focus on the game, the historical passing of the gambling game, substantive character development, 21 has more of a by the numbers movie. It is also confusing for the non-initiated and is unbalanced in its presentation of the duel between the good and bad guys. While this movie is entertaining and keeps up the interest, partly depending on the pounding musical track, it still loses in disguises and believability in several places. Based on a true story, it could be that the actual story might have been more authentically and emotionally compelling and satisfying. Six out of Ten Stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1) A best-selling book "Bringing Down The House" adapted into a movie
with a completely differently storyline, but keeping the skeleton of
the book intact.
2) In the book, the leads are Asian. In the movie, the leads are a bland Tobey MacGuire wannabe and yet another bland blonde "actress", both look too old to be college students.
3) Laurence Fishburne completely wasted.
4) Kevin Spacey in his element.
5) You don't feel invested in any of the characters, especially the Tobey wannabe.
6) Believe it or not, there are nerds that do have girlfriends. Not all nerds are fat, spewing corny one-liners, and obsessed with some stupid contest no one gives a hoot about.
7) "Winner, winner, chicken dinner?" Dumbest. Catchphrase. Ever.
8) The book states that disguises and aliases were used. But we don't see the disguises till the last card-counting scheme towards the end.
9) What's with the team going to the SAME casino every time? That makes no sense.
10) Fishburne's character eyeballing the Tobey wannabe EVERY TIME? If Fishburne knew that Tobey wannabe with working with Spacey, why not just go after Spacey and leave the kid out of this?
11) Casino security beating the crap out of card-counters?
12) You're an MIT student, brilliant, and the best part-time job you can get is a clothing store that pays minimum wage?
13) Does EVERY film have to have a romantic hook-up (fake or otherwise), especially when the twosome have absolutely no chemistry?
14) Who hides casino CASH winnings in a drop ceiling? And how did Spacey managed to find the money?
15) Mom offers to help pay for Harvard and Tobey wannabe turns it down? Is he crazy? Who turns down money from Mom?
16) The bag switcheroo? Tobey wannabe double-crossing Spacey at the end? Those felt tacked-on at the last minute.
17) Jealous teammate tries to sabotage the scheme to get Tobey wannabe booted out? Been there, seen that a million times before.
18) Tobey wannabe claims to do it for the money, but it's obvious that he's really doing it to be close to the bland blonde. Dude, she's so not worth it!
19) Notice that Spacey and the bland blonde have been in three films together (21, Beyond The Sea, and Superman Returns)?
20) The background whizzing by while the actor/actress in the foreground moves either slowly or not moving at all is overdone and gets dizzy after a while.
21) This 2-hour movie felt like a 22-hour movie.
Nice try--and I always want to cut no less stellar a personage as
Spacey some slack--but in the end it didn't quite resonate.
I think I have a bone to pick with movies that resort to plot devices like 1) the sting 2) guy-gets-girl (absent a genuinely warm human interest), 3) a litany of reversals, and 5) a "rising from the ashes" wrap-it-up-put-a-bow-on-it feelgood ending, without a proper denouement.
Reflecting on this gives me new respect for the core narrative power of opera. Opera is, come to think of it, irrational, in that typically no effort is made to vest one narrative element with special resonance by virtue of its contrast against other elements. The goal in Opera is to simply present a fairly unitary image, and tease the romantic power out of that image. The idea is that love, courage--even unmitigated malfeasance--properly presented, will deliver the goods, if all the buttons are pushed that properly present that image in a way that can't be made light of or otherwise ignored.
"21" doesn't really have that unitary image; something truly heroic, notwithstanding that fairly artful final scene.
In the end, the film feels gimmicky. Too many moving parts, some of them just don't quite fit, and those weaknesses could have been avoided by stripping them out and having a core image that resonates; which, despite efforts to make the central theme do so, didn't.
Sorry! Can't recommend this one....
I do want to add one thing: I feel that Spacey is a kind of Mingus of American movies; he has this abiding desire to assemble a crop of young talent and make then deliver. That's respectable. But sometimes the actual effect is like that when Mingus was working with a passel of raw talent: A lot of rawness. And, of course, the preceding observations re weakness in conception/design apply.
This film is about a group of mathematical geniuses trying to make lots
of money from Las Vegas by playing Black Jack.
The start of "21" is too slow, and I think they could have cut out a lot of scenes to make the pace quicker. Black Jack is a fast pace game, but the film does not give that pressing pressure during the game. I would also have liked to know why everyone in the team is in this business venture, but the film only explains why Ben is in. This would give the other members of the team more development and depth. In the film, Kianna and Choi are nothing more than mannequins that give signals one in a while. It's a pity that their characters are not explored.
Though they explain the communication codes well, they have not explained the points system that is central to the whole plot. I was so lost about those +15 and +16's that it killed my enjoyment.
It's also annoying that they keep going to the same casino, which causes their downfall. If they were so smart, why did they not think about this?
21 is a film by Robert Luketic starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth,
Kevin Spacey, and Lawrence Fishburne. It is inspired by the true story
of the MIT Blackjack Team, and is based on Ben Mezrich's bestselling
book, Bringing Down the House. The film revolves around Ben Campbell, a
Harvard Medical School hopeful studying at MIT. His dreams of going to
HMS are put on hold because he does not have the necessary amount of
money required to enroll. He is pulled into a group of 'geniuses' who,
under the supervision of Mickey Rosa, their mathematics professor,
learn the art of counting cards in order to outplay the casinos in
All of the above added with some flashy Las Vegas images, heartfelt (not really!) best friends, a cheesy sequence near the end, and a non-existent romantic chemistry between Sturgess and Bosworth, makes 21. It's not as bad as I make it sound. The introduction is nice, so is the technique in which they show how one learns card counting. I had no difficulty in understanding it at all. The film is fairly gripping with some nice background music, and the Vegas shots are kind of okay. I've seen much better though. Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey are the only ones who actually act. Kate Bosworth is flat. I loved her in Superman Returns. Here, she hardly makes an effort to act. Plus, she looks highly weird (with her whole doll-hair). And lets not even talk about Lawrence Fishburne. The film is verging on two hours. It might have been a better movie if they did away with about 15 minutes (read: the whole best friend thing!). It got a little boring near the middle.
I liked Jim Sturgess in Across the Universe. He was quite good here too. He's building a nice career for himself. Getting to the main point.. If you've got nothing better to do, you can watch 21. You surely wont be missing anything if you don't.
I would like to know the name and artist(s) of the last song playing in the movie. There was a shot of Harvard University during the song. Please help me out. I don't have any idea how to ask this question in ten lines. It is a very short simple question. Perhaps I could inquire about a soundtrack for the film. If I could locate one of those I could probably determine what the song was and who played/sang it. I have the tune slightly in the back of my mind and cannot quite pull it forward, and I know the song and artist but cannot bring them to the point of recognition. So, if anyone could please tell me what is the song that plays at the end of the movie "21", I will really appreciate it. Thank you.
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