Alright … well there isn’t much to say about 21 because it really just made me so angry to the point that I screamed out “FUCK this movie” about a half hour in. Now you may be asking me why I would get so angry at such an obviously mediocre film. Simple, it was just so horribly cliched and lazy in almost every way possible that it was impossible to not get upset. If they had stuck to the supposedly fantastic source material – a book named “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” by Ben Mezrich – then the movie would have been infinitely better. What could have been a fascinating tale becomes an after school special with a happy ending that doesn’t fit in anywhere.
21 is the story of Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a promising M.I.T. student who needs money to get into Harvard Medical School. To make ends meet (and against his better judgement) he joins a group of his fellow students, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Kianna (Liza Lapira), Choi (Aaron Yoo) and Fisher (Jacob Pitts) to go to Las Vegas every weekend with their math professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) to “beat the house” by counting cards while playing blackjack. Fascinating stuff and if the movie would have kept the focus on the characters and how they beat the system, it would have been so much better. But instead it put its focus on how this master group basically did the most cliched things possible in Vegas – riding in limos down the strip, hanging out with strippers and acting like pompous high rollers. Moreover, the way that director Robert Luketic decided to present this was predictable and boring, with the money making process being outlined through either stop motion video (which I actually did scream at in the theater) or some sort of epilepsy inducing flashes of cards. As I said earlier, this movie is completely Hollywood-ized in a way that really took me away from the story.
Moving onto the choice of actors, I can’t complain too loudly, after all, 21 features an all-star cast of actors. They all do their part relatively well but none of them really stand out and propel the film to the level that it needed to be for me to enjoy it. The fault lies with the lack of character development (which for me is what should have driven the film) by writers Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb. The only role with any semblance of meat was written for Kevin Spacey – problem is Spacey’s role is the same as I’ve seen him do a thousand times before. I’d have also liked to see more from Lawrence Fishburne, who plays Cole William, the casino agent fixated on tackling the team. He almost seems to be miscast as the “villain”.
So long story short, 21 is a movie that disappointed me greatly. Ultimately, it rips off so many great casino films while systematically ruining a fantastic true story by dumbing it down into a story that was made for children. Just because a film is PG-13 doesn’t mean you have to completely alienate everyone above the age of 12 with a story that is full of morals where they don’t belong and a twist ending that doesn’t fit. It is a crying shame that such a good cast was wasted on a lazy movie that just borrows and never improves. My suggestion? Read the book if you are interested in this story and avoid this film adaptation completely.