Counting cards. It’s something we’ve all heard about but have never taken the time to understand how it works. 21, which is a spin-off from the true story of six MIT students who took Vegas for huge sums of money in the 90s, takes us on that journey.
The script by Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb was loosely adapted from Ben Mezrich’s best-selling novel Bringing Down the House. As with any Hollywood adaptation, it’s certain to be fictional, but it sure does entertain.
Our hero is the hard-working 4.0 G.P.A. MIT student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe). Campbell is nearing graduation and has already been accepted to Harvard Medical School. The only problem is he needs to come up with $300,000 for tuition or win a scholarship that 70 other people with 4.0s from Ivy League schools are also applying for. Campbell needs to write a “dazzling” essay using his life experiences to emerge from the rest of the applicants. Campbell has been conservatively working hard his whole life so he could be an MIT student with a 4.0 G.P.A. He has no life experiences.
One day, Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, K-PAX, American Beauty) notices Campbell’s Rain Man-like ability with numbers and invites him to a secret meeting. The secret meeting is to learn how to count cards while playing blackjack with a team of four other students. The group takes flights to Vegas every weekend to legally rob the casinos of their money.
Campbell declines at first, but after stressing over how to come up with $300,000 and being enticed by the beautifully blonde Jill (Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!), he decides to join the team.
Campbell catches on quickly and gets to experience being young and rich in the fabulous Las Vegas. He is a hot shot with money, a girl and for once, an exciting life until a disagreement with Rosa leaves Campbell busted and broke.
Director Robert Luketic (Monster-in-Law, Legally Blonde) builds a nice setup to a completely unsuspected sting. You’ll have to go see the movie to figure out who gets stung.
Jim Sturgess does a great job of playing a low key guy from Boston considering he’s a Brit. He’s a relatively fresh face, taking into account I’ve never seen anything else with him in it. Throughout the movie, I was trying to think of what else I’ve seen him in, but I think he just reminds me of Emile Hirsch from The Girl Next Door. Anyway, if he can keep acting as well as he did in this movie, then I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
Spacey is absolutely perfect for his role. It’s a blast watching him perform his classic cruelly-sarcastic remarks as he conducts his “business” that has no room for errors or mistakes. Spacey has always been good at being a prick.
Bosworth is, of course, stunningly beautiful in the film. She really makes you care about her character by adding this wholesome girl feeling to Jill. With some of the outfits she was wearing and things she was doing in Vegas, she could have come off as a wild child or a free spirit, but I think she makes the audience feel warm about her. Therefore, she makes you concerned about her character. By the way, in case you feel something is a little off when you look at Bosworth, it’s probably because she has one brown eye and one blue eye.
Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Fled) plays the intimidating Cole Williams, a loss prevention agent whose job is to catch and put fear into card counters since it’s not really illegal. He is also perfect for his role because who wouldn’t be scared of Fishburne? The guy is huge and has a petrifyingly powerful voice.
With films being as predictable as can be these days, I really appreciate one that’s actually surprising. 21 has a nice twist in the climax that really works. 21 is no Ocean’s Eleven, but it’s a “dazzling” Vegas movie that certainly jumps off the page.