Eye For Film >> Movies >> 21 (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
Despite being a genius among geniuses, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is struggling to raise the tuition fees he needs for Harvard Medical School. Out of the blue, he’s recruited by one of his Professors, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), to join an elite club including ‘it’ girl Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) that uses card-counting to win big-money at blackjack in Las Vegas. Though things go well at first, human behaviour soon ensures that the best laid plans fall apart and it’s not long before security agent Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) is on their trail.
Given the popularity of the Ocean’s trilogy and the boom of poker over the last few years, a movie like 21 should have been expected. Loosely based on the true story as detailed in Ben Mezich’s source novel Bringing Down The House (and when I say loosely, the only thing that survives is the fact that MIT students concoct a scheme to fleece casinos) it takes the fun idea of ‘card-counting’ made famous in Barry Levinson's Rain Man and makes a whole film out of it.
Unfortunately, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Monster-In-Law) seems quite content just to borrow inspiration from other movies in order to create something that is fairly generic. Indeed, anyone who watches movies regularly probably won’t be surprised as pieces of the ‘puzzle’ fall into place and I doubt anyone won’t be able to predict the ‘surprise’ ending. With the full Hollywood treatment, 21 has a routine romance, an evil scheming villain (well, professor) and a host of other cliches. Hell, at one point there’s even a chase through a kitchen.
Regardless, what’s most important is that, despite this, 21 is still an entertaining motion picture. While Luketic might be trying to recreate the feel of Casino, the end result is something more like Ocean’s Eleven meets The OC (in particular, the episode The Strip) which – just to clarify – isn’t an insult. The pace is energetic, the soundtrack is brimming with hip tracks and there is a real feel-good factor in seeing the former king of the nerds adjusting to his new life as a gambling rock-star. That’s right, the old wish-fulfilment chestnut.
Filling this role is young British actor Sturgess, who anchors those around him. Though his arc, like the film itself, isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, Sturgess is charming and sells the transition from timid geek to confident grafter. It may be a tad premature, but his breakthrough performance showed me he’d make a decent Peter Parker when the Spidey franchise inevitably reboots. Can’t see it? There’s even a scene lifted directly from Spider-Man in which Bosworth (interestingly, Superman’s love interest in Superman Returns) waves at someone behind him and he waves back. I’m telling you, you heard it here first.
Around Sturgess is a star trio filling their roles without exerting themselves. The always watchable Spacey steals a few scenes despite not leaving his comfort zone, Fishburne sighs his way through a role that he could do in his sleep and Bosworth looks more at home when playing the costume-dressing hustler than the hottest girl on campus.
Overall, 21 is certainly not going to change the cinematic world, but it’s lively and believes in itself enough to justify a worthwhile night at the flicks. Though there are certainly better heist movies out there and it might be the sort of picture that critics find tedious (I will add that I didn’t) this is ideal Friday night entertainment. You might not want to go all-in with 21, but it is definitely a safe bet for amusement.Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2008