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Movie Review: 21

21: Predictable, Generic Fun

Well, it turns out this writer was right: you could absolutely review 21 based on the trailer alone. Having seen previews for this movie (or even having seen a cinematic work put out by Hollywood once or twice), the movie is predictable from start to finish. But you can also probably predict how you'll feel about 21 from the trailer. If it looks entertaining to you, that's because it is, with its glittery Vegas backdrop and good-looking cast. If it looks predictable and cheesy, well, it's that, too. The "twists" come at you a mile away and the themes (searching for a father figure, defining oneself not by wealth, etc., etc.) rain down on your head like a plague. But at the same time, it's a PG-13 movie clearly trying to appeal to a younger audience, and it probably will. It's going to be flashy and obvious. It's going to be fond of montages and driving music. For what it is, it's a pretty fun time.

Jim Sturgess plays the endearingly geeky genius MIT senior Ben Campbell, whose ability to attend the school of his dreams, Harvard Medical School, is blocked by a pesky little $300,000 tuition. When the shady Professor Rosa (a disappointingly one-note villain's performance by Kevin Spacey) discovers Ben's ability to do math under pressure and keep his cool, he folds Ben into his secret little card-counting operation. This business, as Mickey Rosa calls it, consists of five MIT students who work together to scheme Vegas casinos out of some major cash — using math. To see what else happens and more of my take on it,


At first, Ben is anxious about the whole thing, but of course, as he starts to succeed, it becomes easier and easier to enjoy the big money he's pocketing. Plus, "the prettiest girl at school," Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth, in a mostly forgettable role) is involved in the scam, giving Ben further incentive. Thus, the geeks become the gangsters. Yet when Ben has a falling-out with Rosa, his newfound pompousness moves him to suggest the students continue without the teacher. Only thing they don't count on is a casino security head (Lawrence Fishburne) with his own bitter vendetta against Rosa and his little "business."

The movie is too long, has surprisingly little real action and lots of low moments that drag. There are, however, fast-paced montages (the Learning the Ropes montages, the Winning Big montages, the Spending Spree montages, the Generally Living the High Life montages) set to any number of the soundtrack's hipster tunes, and quick zooms onto cards and chips aplenty. Most of all, there is a fondness for the slow-motion. If I've learned anything from the movies, it's that you can take any group of average schlubs, make them walk toward the camera in a fan formation, employ some thumping bass and some slow-motion and suddenly it's Gangsta Paradise. This applies to MIT students, too, apparently. And yeah, it's generic. But it's fun, too.

To see the trailer and more clips from 21 check out

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures

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