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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

Join The Conversation
elle86 elle86 9 years
Think I'll Netflix this one!
kevin8 kevin8 9 years
I'm excited to see 21, but I already know it's going to stray from the real story, as much as all hollywood "based on a true story" movies do. Still though, 2 of the original MIT blackjack team (Mike Aponte and David Irvine) have started to teach people the real methods to card counting. So if you are interested in that, use them and not the movie to realy understand how it works.
Hex Hex 9 years
I'll wait for it to show up on cable. "Oh, it's that movie about blackjack math." Just not something I'd pay ticket prices for.
agrepina agrepina 9 years
i saw this tonite..and i loved it!!
Geminispoppy Geminispoppy 9 years
Thanks for the review, every other review i've seen has trashed it.
hotstuff hotstuff 9 years
I saw this tonight and yeah you pretty much knew what would a lot of movies nowadays! My problem is, if this is a true story and the real guy was Asian why couldn't the lead be Asian? It also seemed like only a small part of what the movie shows was true. It was OK, kinda long and dragged at some parts.
laellavita laellavita 9 years
i saw the movie today because i had a day off and i figured - hey, why not? i really agree on the fact that spacey's character was so monotone, even if he was menacing, but it really was just a movie you could get lost in for two hours and have a good time. sometimes you don't need the heavy, heavy dramas, although sturgess was also really good in the other boleyn girl too. i really liked it, for the mainstream movie it was.
fashion4ward fashion4ward 9 years
I can't wait to see this this weekend. Jim's AMAZING! And this seems like the best reviewed movie I have interest in yet this year.
pinkflats pinkflats 9 years
see i think this movie would have been interesting if hollywood should just stick to the book. plus kate bosworth and kevin spacey in a movie together for umpteenth time. next!
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
Haha, thanks ehadams! It's so ridiculous. How does that happen?? I'd love to use that slow-mo trick with a group of friends in pajamas or something and see it it still looks glamorous. :P
ehadams ehadams 9 years
Gangsta Paradise mwahahaha! Thanks Buzz, I laughed out loud at work and now everyone is looking at me funny. ;) So true though.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Thanks for the honest review, as always, Buzz. I wasn't expecting anything great so I won't be disappointed.
nancita nancita 9 years
Yeah, I appreciate the fair warning. I can totally understand what you mean by "the Learning the Ropes montages, the Winning Big montages, the Spending Spree montages, the Generally Living the High Life montages." That is totally what I expect from a movie like this, so I'll be prepared going in to know it's not fabulous. But fun.
avienndha avienndha 9 years
The book was awesome...wish the movie was getting better reviews! The book is called "Bringing Down the House" but I think another movie had that name already...highly recommend it.
figurine figurine 9 years
I don't know, I'm kind of interested in seeing this one. Thanks for the review. :)
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