The puppetmaster is Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, at his best in years), the sharky professor who recruits five students for the job, two of whom are written with backgrounds and personality. They’re Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe) and Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth). But this is Ben’s story—after all, he’s the one trying to fund his stay at Harvard Medical School (so there are alternates to student loans!). The rest of the gang stands around either being jealous or slouching, fully aware they’ve been cast as a sort of inside joke.
The real students of the story were Asian, a fact that critics have lambasted the movie for (if you look close, you’ll spot a few, including a cameo from Jeff Ma, whose story inspired Mezrich’s book). But to enjoy 21, the casting has to be understood—sad fact is, today’s audience doesn’t want to spend two hours with an Asian if he isn’t flying by wires or wisecracking with Chris Tucker.
But their race isn’t the reason why I didn’t care for most of the characters; it’s their foolishness. They don’t follow the rules (“You do not know each other ever” Rosa repeats, yet they schmooze poolside every afternoon) and come off as more amateur than what we imagine Ma and his crew were: Why not vary the tip-off signals each night? And why sit with the same co-conspirator at the same table at the same casino night after night? You’d think these “professionals” would act like they knew the Eye in the Sky (Laurence Fishburne) were watching…
Robert Luketic’s (Monster-in-Law) 21 wears its flaws like a wig, but it’s fun. It’s a ball to party and steal with pretty criminals…and it doesn’t hurt that they wear costumes.
The Advantage Player (5:25): Want to beat Vegas? This featurette will teach you how…sort of. The stars (sans Spacey) go through the steps to counting cards at a six-deck Black Jack table, but they move quickly so you’ll need to watch this a few times to get the basics.
Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal (24:47): This making-of featurette goes behind-the-scenes of 21, exploring the evolution of the movie, casting, filming, and much, much more. Standard, but worth a watch for fans.
Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life (7:07): Production designer Missy Stewart and costume designer Luca Mosca discuss the look of 21 and the locations used.