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Nothing new, but it's worth the watch
Smells_Like_Cheese3 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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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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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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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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Less interesting than a bowl of soggy cornflakes. Only for the terminably bored
pfgpowell-114 May 2010
Are we allowed to write reviews of films which became so mind-numbingly dull and predictable that we didn't even watch until the end? I don't know. Perhaps someone from IMDb should publish a definitive protocol. But 21 was just such a film. I didn't actually walk out of the cinema early because I was at home watching it on DVD. But I really had neither the patience nor the heart to carry on with this formulaic drivel. Yes, I know that the US market it so big that even drivel can recoup its costs and then - hopefully - some. But don't be fooled. If you are inclined to prefer safe, boring, predictable films with the usual content, the usual characters, the usual 'dilemmas', the usual dialogue, the usual clichés, the usual plots and the usual plot devices, this is for you. Otherwise save your money, whether this is showing at you nearest fleapit or 'on offer' at your local supermarket. Save your money and buy a decent DVD instead. Incidentally, Kevin Spacey, rather good in The Usual Suspects and Beyond The Sea, has a habit of picking the occasional clunker. So don't even bother because our Kev is involved. Avoid this b*ll*cks.
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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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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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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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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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Pretty, and average, so pretty average
Polaris_DiB19 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
What can I say, I like a good story that combines math talent with risk and danger. Not quite a heist movie, and of course "loosely" based on a true story, 21 is some pretty good popcorn fare for a good two hours and change.

The images are pretty. They are mostly clichéd and typical shots of Las Vegas, the usual glam and color on winding aerials and dissolves, but it's fun to look at. The characters are entertaining. For some reason, Kevin Spacey went to sleep for this role, which is interesting because if he had actually bothered to put some work into it, it might have made this a much more fun movie, and his character would be much more dynamic. Instead, he barely keeps his eyes open. It's strange. The story is predictable, but the details suffice to keep you interested.

All in all, it's a very average movie. Sometimes movies are so average, that it's worth emphasizing the absolute average-ness of it. This is one of those movies. There's really nothing else to say.

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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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want to take a gamble? this movie STINKS!
Quinoa19842 April 2008
Robert Luketic, director of 21, doesn't have as his major folly to change the characters from the book (which I have not read but heard a bit about) from an all Asian group of card counters in Las Vegas to a more 'mixed' lot (i.e. about 1/4 are Asian now). Nor is it even his casting of his lead actor (Jim Sturgess probably brings more charm to the two-dimensional part than one would've thought was possible). His biggest folly was not questioning as he went through the motions of making a silly, contrived, hyper-slick-music-video-shot-in-Jiminy-Jilikers-High-def if there was anything to change up on an audience who knows such motions through and through. The only thing that might differentiate this movie from a whole host of smart-guy-in-a-new-dirty-pond flicks (and I can't name them all but the likes of Rounders is a masterpiece compared to this) is that the characters turn into models from GQ and Maxim by the time they hit it big in Vegas. Not expecting much from 21 is just about right, or even worse.

And don't get me started on Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey. It's a paycheck day once again for these two very good- sometimes even fabulous- thespians, who slum their roles as a would-be-DeNiro-in-Casino and a shady MIT professor who by the looks of the movie should be characterized as team-leader-Satan respectively. They too understand what is going on in 21, which is an ol' fish-out-of-water fable about smart people doing stupid things with lots of money at stake as an MIT kid (Srugess) with aspirations for Harvard med joins a group that goes to Vegas and stakes out hundreds of thousands per weekend by counting cards and hustling from table to table. I guess, in a way, I don't blame them for not doing much at all with their roles. But one would hope that there would be something, ANYTHING, that would make this as something for them to distinguish, that the director &/or the script would give them something to do aside from filling in pat performances from at least a good few other parts they've played.

As mentioned, Sturgess at least brings a little bit of interest to a character carved out of some sympathy as kid who gets in way over his head. There's not much else with supporting players either. Kate Bosworth is the kind of actress whom you think can sort of act, or at least knows how to *pretend* to really act. But there's also something just not there clicking, something when she puts on the 'concerned' face that just screams so bland that you can't even take it. The writers also plug in clichés of yester-year (and not long enough): Jacob Pitts as the snotty side character in the group who is just too jealous and stubborn to stay in the group long once Benn arrives; the old nerdy friends from before Ben's trip into blackjack land, who are there as a function and not as any real character 'base'. And then there is the script in and of itself- giving us such forlorn twists and turns in its final reels that I want to choke on my popcorn- and the direction as well, which pumps up the volume for the kids while making sure to completely sanitize a real Vegas experience for college-aged younguns (and, of course, the shallowest of all, the two hot male and female leads have to hook up, without much connection whatsoever).

Maybe you could give it a couple of quick peeks, maybe five minutes, when it's on TNT in a couple of years. But as far as giving any substantial money to this enterprise? The house wins, Johnny, that's the way it is.
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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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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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"21" is amusing but lifeless entertainment
Movie_Muse_Reviews18 January 2009
If you didn't know that "21" was based on the true story of a handful of MIT students taking Vegas for millions by counting cards in blackjack, you'd have no idea. Not that it's not plausible, but the movie plays out so melodramatically, so predictably Hollywood, that it strips the story told in Ben Mezrich's book "Bringin' Down the House" of its uniqueness, its potential to show what happens when young aspiring college students get caught up in the other-worldly glitz and glamor of Las Vegas. "21" chooses to go for style points, moving quickly through a basic plot line simply to deliver what it thinks is slick entertainment. It keeps your attention, but it's amateur-ish in its delivery.

"21" focuses on the specific story of Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess of "Across the Universe"), a genius MIT student whose one dream is to attend Harvard Medical School and his only obstacle is money. When his professor Micky Rosa (Spacey) discovers his mathematical genius, he enlists his help as a "business partner" training him to join his team of blackjack card-counting students who take weekend trips to Vegas to make bank.

Ben is initially very resistant to the idea, saying a definitive no to a very tempting Kate Bosworth. Naturally, he has a change of heart, but the film lets out that it doesn't really care about its characters when we see no motivation for the change. We could assume the money is too hard to pass up, but we really don't know. The characters merely go through all the motions, same with the relationship that eventually buds between Bosworth's character Jill and Ben.

The movie follows this basic nobody prodigy discovers a hidden talent and rides the waves of fortune until he becomes cocky and thickheaded and trouble starts. Not that you expect anything different, but that's really all it is. Pepper that with flashy gambling shots and montages of living it up in Las Vegas and that's your movie. There are several scenes that seem so forced or dialog that seems unnecessary that you have to laugh at it. It's just not something you can take too seriously. All this just detracts from the interesting storytelling possibilities that the concept offers.

All the same, you root for Ben anyway, you want to know what happens and you feel reasonably entertained. Despite director Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde") choosing a lot of poor, overdone techniques, "21" is paced well and keeps your attention. The only difference is that you don't care what happens, you just want to know.

There's nothing clever, smooth or edgy about "21" though it just seems to come off that way. You're usually a step ahead of what's going on, so there's no way you can be dazzled by the story. It's the thrill of Vegas and winning big that keeps us tagging along with the story.
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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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It Didn't Do A Lot For Me
sddavis6331 August 2009
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
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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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Adequate to kill time
Gordon-1112 July 2008
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?
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The game is called 21
mario_c5 December 2010
21 is a movie about game, money and greed and also about how someone can lose his self control when it's all about making "easy money"…

In the materialistic world we live nowadays money is the center of many things, even those which were supposed to have nothing to do with it, like love or friendship; so making "easy money" is a real temptation even if you have to lie, forget your old friends or to do schemes to achieve it! The main character of this movie can tell it very well…

It's a nice movie about this subject and it shows us the frightening world of Las Vegas casinos'. The plot is quite interesting and appealing and the cast is also good. I score it 7/10.
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jboothmillard3 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I saw a short television trailer, and it was obvious it was about card playing and gambling, specifically the game Blackjack, or rather 21 like the title, from director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, Monster-in-Law). Basically young student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) has very high intelligent, and has ambitions to get a scholarship and transfer to Harvard School of Medicine so he can become a doctor, but for four or five years he needs $300,000, which he can't afford. One night he meets Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), an unorthodox math professor, and he joins the teacher's group of fellow students, Jill Taylor (Superman Returns' Kate Bosworth), Choi (Aaron Yoo), Kianna (Liza Lapira) and Fisher (Jacob Pitts). All are being taught by Micky in the skill of card counting in the game of blackjack, using a clever number of hand signals and key words to use during play, and if successful obviously they could make fortunes. Eventually, after some training, Ben and the others are ready to use the techniques they have gained in the real paying casinos of Las Vegas, and naturally the young man is only going to keep going until he has his tuition fee. Jill sees that he is being corrupted by greed and becoming arrogant in the process, and he is also caught out by casino security enforcer Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne), this angers Micky, who Williams has a grudge against. There is the point when there may not be enough to money to go to Harvard for the young man, and no way to get any new blackjack games for high stakes and money, but eventually Ben is welcomed back for one last big con in Las Vegas, and this does go well. Also starring Jack McGee as Terry. Sturgess is okay in the lead role, but of course Spacey and Fishburne are the one you pay the most attention to as they are the big shots of the film, the story is reasonably interesting, the card games are certainly the scenes that grip you as you wonder if they will get away with it, a not bad drama based on a true story. Worth watching!
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The Kids Who Broke The Bank At Las Vegas
bkoganbing6 April 2008
Straight A student Jim Sturgess at MIT is having a real problem, he's one of many geniuses trying to get into Harvard Medical School, the cost is going to be over $300.000.00 if he does not get a prized scholarship that several other geniuses are competing for.

So it seems too good to be true when his advanced calculus professor, Kevin Spacey, let's Sturgess in on a little sideline he has going for him. Seems that Spacey has recruited an elite team of his most promising students to work the blackjack tables in Las Vegas, something he used to do himself, but now he's too well known there. Blackjack or 21 he says is the most popular game at the casinos and the one it's easiest to beat if you know how to count the cards.

Counting cards isn't exactly illegal, but something the casino owners do discourage. The discourager is Lawrence Fishburne and he's pretty good at his job, at both spotting and discouraging counters.

Spacey's team consists of Sturgess, Jacob Pitts, Aaron Yoo, Kate Bosworth, and Liza Lapira and all do a good job at convincing you they are actually MIT students and not pretty faces from Hollywood pretending to be geniuses. Spacey of course is his usual fine self.

I particularly liked Pitts's performance as the kid whose jealousy of Sturgess ultimately wrecks the whole operation. 21 is a pretty good film with good location filming on MIT and in Las Vegas giving it an air of authenticity.

You have to love how Sturgess gets the bankroll to Vegas.
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An interesting Vegas film that unravels in a hurry
miles-9311923 April 2022
The first half of the movie was pretty decent, a good plot with lots of great camera work. But the story sucked and was completely unbelievable. "Card counters" don't do or act like that, casinos don't operate like that, smart kids don't act like that, casino chase scenes don't happen like that, coach/team leaders don't do that, etc. I love Vegas and gambling stories are intriguing but nothing in this movie makes sense other than for cheap cliché entertainment.
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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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