21 (2008)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
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Overall Rating 68%
Overall Rating
Ranked #555
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Jim Sturgess
Jim Sturgess
Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey
Kate Bosworth
Kate Bosworth
Aaron Yoo
Aaron Yoo
Liza Lapira
Liza Lapira
Review by bluemeanie
Added: April 08, 2008
What I want to know is - who thought it would be a good idea to take one of the most boring games in the world and turn it into a two hour movie? Sure, I know there are some people out there who will spit venom at me for that opening statement, but really - blackjack is from an exciting game, though I suppose cheating makes it a little more tolerable. It's difficult to make poker exciting on screen, so what chance did they have with this one? What "21" tries to do is create this intriguing character study set against the high stakes world of Las Vegas blackjack. What it does, instead, is deal out more cliches than cards and never seems to deliver on what the title suggests. I wanted this to be a film about the game of blackjack more than anything else. I wanted to know more about the mathematical process that made these M.I.T. kids so damned successful. It was like watching some really mediocre ESPN movie of the week. Director Robert Luketic, whose previous work includes the films "Monster-in-Law" and "Legally Blonde", is still stuck in Reese Witherspoon mode, and I don't really think he understands the game of blackjack, much less how to make an interesting and affective film on the subject matter. Give someone like Barry Levinson this material. I am willing to bet he could have crafted something far more interesting, and far more entertaining.

Guess what - this is an underdog story. You see, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is the smartest kid at M.I.T., and he has always wanted to go to Harvard Medical School. He has been accepted, but he needs $300,000 bucks for tuition, and it looks like he might not get a scholarship. So, what does he do? His first option is working at the local clothier, but he is soon offered the chance to join up with Professor Rosa (Kevin Spacey) and his elite team of card counters. They go to Vegas on the weekends, work their system and make thousands and thousands of dollars. After some initial conflicts of conscience, the hottest girl at M.I.T. (who is evidently also the smartest, which is so how it works in real life), played by Kate Bosworth, convinces him to join and he does. The middle chunk of the film deals with Ben as he comes to terms with this new lifestyle and starts making all the money who ever dreamed. Things get complicated for the gang when an old school Vegas watch dog (Laurence Fishburne) starts figuring out their game and slowly moves in. When Ben wants out, Professor Rosa makes it more than a little difficult and the last part of the film deals with Ben and his card counting friends trying to score one big payday before calling it quits for good.

Where to begin...where to begin. First off, how annoying is this voice over narration. It sounds like every other word that Jim Sturgess read was italicized. He reads his voice over narration like he's auditioning for a "Behind the Music" gig - it's ridiculous. Secondly, and this might just be a minor gripe - if this kid is supposed to be the smartest kid in school, why in the hell does he hide all this money he wins in his damned ceiling in his dorm room? Go buy a safe at Office Depot, you cheap bastard. I wasn't nearly as concerned about Laurence Fishburne catching him as I was about what was going to happen to that money in his damned ceiling. Someone that stupid doesn't deserve to get into Harvard Medical School. Thirdly, the film is utterly predictable. I knew exactly what was going to happen each and every step of the way. You have everything from the geeky friends whose true worth is discovered at the end of the picture, the adoring mother who makes cookies for her son at the end of the movie, and even rivalry between Ben and the former best card counter on the team. Wow...that's originality. Everything is just so cut and dry, with these nice little neat bows on just about everything. I didn't want that. I wanted Laurence Fishburne to beat him half to death and then the film end with his getting kicked out of Harvard Medical School. Why? Because that is how things work in the real world. "21" teaches that you can coast your way through life if you just have enough patience to wait on everything to work out in your favor.

As for the performances, most of them have about as much energy as a wet sock drying in the hot sun. Jim Sturgess, who was so good in "Across the Universe", is still as adorable as ever, and he does a passable job with the material, but he seems like he isn't sure why he's in this film. When he is supposed to get angry and upset, I can't help but see an actor acting, nothing more. Kevin Spacey has some fun with his role, but his character is not developed enough. I wanted to know more about his past and just how heavily involved in all of this he was. Laurence Fishburne also has fun with his role, but it seems like his character was written for the sole purpose of serving as an advertisement for facial recognition software. And the ending of this film takes his character and turns it into a joke. Kate Bosworth is one of the most attractive actresses working today, but her work in this film is not going to win her any awards. Most of these actors deserve better material than "21" was able to give, which is a shame, because we don't see Spacey and Fishburne do very many films these days, and to have them wasted just brings a frown to my face.

The best thing about this picture is that it never tries to be more than it is. The director didn't aim for the stars and neither did the producers or the actors. What resulted was a mediocre sports film that doesn't spend enough time on the right aspects of the subject matter. What results is a cliched and highly predictable picture about an underdog trying to make it into school. "21" might be just what the doctor ordered for blackjack fans, but as someone who enjoys playing blackjack but has accepted how boring it is, I was not sucked in by this film at all. In fact, it might be more exciting for you to round up three of your friends and play some blackjack in your living room while watching an old VHS copy of "The Hustler". That might serve you better. "21" was one of the most disappointing films of 2008 because of the cast and the thought of something better. But this film just shows how limited some sports are in offering legitimate cinematic entertainment. I guess next we'll be seeing a production company take Old Maid to the silver screen.

Lucid Dreams #1: Lucid Dreams - added 07/12/2010, 12:22 AM
I saw so many commercials for this damn movie and it was a huge let down. 4/10
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