PLOT: Boy's a math genius. But boy needs money to attend Harvard. Boy gets roped into counting cards by a hottie. Boy, hottie and friends make loads of cash. Cash goes to boy's head. Double-crosses and Hollywood cliches ensue.
REVIEW: If you've been to Las Vegas or Atlantic City (or some shady back-alley gamblin' joint), you've probably had the misfortune at plopping your chips down at a bum table. You get comfortable and hope for a win but after a few short hands, you realize it's a bust. The dealer and his cards are cold and the cast of characters sitting around you aren't exactly winning company. If you've had that experience, you already know what it's like sitting through 21. Just watch the trailer and you can have the entire experience without dropping $10 and losing two hours of your time.
Jim Sturgess stars in 21 as Ben, one of the smartest kids at M.I.T. who's having some trouble. For one, he was accepted into Harvard Med but, as you might have heard 1,000 some odd times in the commercials, he doesn't have the $300,000 to get in. For another, despite his rakish good looks, he's still stuck with a bunch of dorks as friends and can't get laid. Enter Kate Bosworth. She convinces Jim and that big brain of his to join her card counting racket with professor Micky Rosa (didn't he play outfield for the Yankees in the 70s?) played by Kevin Spacey. Ben shuffles his feet, mumbles, feels sorry for himself but ultimately can't say no to the petty come-ons of the campus hottie.
While the kids in Ben's card counting circle (which also include the klepto, the ditz and the all-around douche) learn and perfect their trade, we in the audience are left scratching our heads. It takes an M.I.T education to master this shit? Armed with their big brains and Roma's bankroll, they head off to Vegas and soon start raking in the big bucks. Ben's on his way to Harvard! He'll never change! Nothing will ever go wrong! Right? Right??....
21's biggest crime is that it's just an extremely bland movie. It's a formula you've seen about 100 times before and you know exactly how it's going to go. He'll lose his friends! His svengali-like mentor (Kevin Spacey) will turn on him! He'll be humbled!
There is nothing new here in 21; nothing new mined out of the classic "everyman finds fame/money, loses fame/money, learns lesson on life" story. The film was in development for so long, you'd think they'd have found a better way to crack the story open than this.
Based on an exhilarating book by Ben Mezrich (no relation to the Ben who is the main character in the movie), the script, credited to Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb, does nothing to bring any of that excitement and verve to the movie. In fact, you probably could have taken the script, down a search/replace and turned the movie into a college football/steroids drama in about an hour.
What certainly would've helped would be characters we can root for. Instead we're stuck with a gang of leads as unlikable as any since CLOVERFIELD. We're supposed to be rooting for Ben who can't get into Harvard Med after finishing up at M.I.T. Where's he gonna get the tuition?! How about a student loan bro? You go to M.I.T., why are you still working a job at a clothing store? I'm half a dummy but I had a halfway decent paying job my senior year of college (man-whoring in New Jersey can be very lucrative).
The only character worth his weight in chips is Laurence Fishburne's Cole Williams, an old school security consultant for Vegas casinos. He's losing jobs to high tech computers and he, and his fists, are none to happy about it. So the chance to catch some bratty kids counting cards and pound their faces afterwards really gets his heart pumping. Maybe I just related to him because after about an hour I wanted to smack these kids around a little too.
Want to watch your chips slowly dwindle away at a bum table? Nah. Cash out and go watch ROUNDERS in your hotel room.