Friday, April 4, 2008


This was a surprisingly fun and interesting romp through Vegas. There's a special place in my heart for Vegas movies, and 21 takes a break from the Ocean's 11 excessiveness in favor of a low key and intellectual heist. The cast is okay- they're not great, but they get the job done. The directing is pretty standard, and the script is adequate. Somehow all of these manage to come together to form a rather original and enjoyable movie.

The movie is loosely (and I emphasize loosely) based on the book "Bringing Down the House" by Ben Mezrich, which is itself a true story. So when they say "inspired by true events," they mean the general concept actually happened, but none of the specifics did. 21 is about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a brilliant M.I.T. math student trying to pay for school. He gets recruited by his professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) to join a sort of math team. The catch is that this team trains in card counting, and travels to Las Vegas on the weekends to make thousands of dollars. The promise of quick money draws Campbell in, and he quickly becomes an unofficial leader.

Things start to go bad, however, when Campbell lets a hacked together romantic plot between him and team member Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) affect his card-playing. This set-back reveals the true greed driven nature of Rosa. A rift forms between the two of them, and the team falls apart. In the midst of all of this, a legendary casino security officer (Laurence Fishburne), wrestling with being replaced by new technology, starts to sniff them out.

Finally a heist movie that glorifies brains and subtlety. These students try everything in their power to fly under the radar, and their only trail is the very fact that they succeed. Instead of complex plans, simple algorithms run these heists. The excesses they indulge in during their secret Vegas lives are what led to their downfall. The better they did, the more risky it was. It's this sort of feedback that leads to an interesting dynamic.

The problem was that none of the characters were likable. Not one. And the ending, which was completely removed from the book, adds an unnecessary bit of convolution that doesn't help, and just kind of fizzles out. The movie works pretty well overall, but some of the relationships (aside from the one behind Campbell and Rosa) don't sparkle, and the ending leaves a bad taste.


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