“21” is a film about six MIT students learning how to count cards and then take down Vegas for millions at blackjack. The one thing you need for that is massive intelligence, yet that is the characteristic most absent from this film.
It’s based on the true story and book “Bringing Down the House” and goes beyond the old standby that says the book is always better than the film. Changes were made, the least of which was making the main character white instead of Asian. Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is an MIT student struggling for money. He needs $300,000 for medical school, yet never once considers a student loan. He’s also never heard of blackjack, which almost makes less sense.
Professor Micky (Kevin Spacey) tries to recruit Ben into the card counting club, but he resists until Jill (Kate Bosworth) flirts a little.
These are basic steps of “21” that don’t really matter. Here’s what matters … We need to feel that these students are brilliant and thinking at levels we wouldn’t think of. And that never happens.
Director Luketic is accustomed to romantic comedies (“Legally Blonde”) and it shows. He takes a little too much time trying to make Ben swoon over Jill and not nearly enough time showcasing the training and difficulty that counting cards and trying to take down casinos would actually entail.
And casinos are the perfect enemy. They always win. Yet it never feels all that amazing when the students win. This should have been a joyous occasion. After all, their system was close to a sure thing. Yet instead we have to deal with Ben eventually becoming cocky and going over the edge.
You can definitely turn off your brain and go along for the mild ride, but they were given a great blueprint and didn’t take advantage. Almost every change that “21” made from “Bringing Down the House” fails, especially the triple-cross ending. Spacey does make a good teacher; there just isn’t enough training for him for this to be a truly memorable role.
“21” has some decent eye candy, some cool Vegas scenes, but overall this film is bluffing if they think it’s a great, intelligent blackjack film. And, yes, I know I just used a poker term, but I doubt “21” would have noticed.
Final Score: 5 out of 10
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth
Directed by: Robert Luketic
Other: A Columbia Pictures release. Rated PG-13 (for violence and sexual content). Running time: 123 minutes.