by: Robert Luketic
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey
Released by: Sony Pictures
Short: This deathly dull, fact-based gambling story proves that if you’re not the one winning, watching a game of blackjack is like watching paint dry.
Not Worth Shuffling
They Should Have Stayed in Vegas
by Jenny Peters
The plot of the new film “21” is simple, and based on fact. Brilliant students from MIT, abetted by one of their professors, learn to count the cards in a blackjack shoe, and thus develop a system for beating Las Vegas casinos out of big money. Sound interesting? Maybe, but in the hands of director Robert Luketic (whose earlier film “Legally Blonde” was much more watchable, not to mention fun) “21” is a slog, filled with boring sequences of card playing, ridiculous plot lines, and insipid acting.
Jim Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a struggling young MIT student who is recruited to be part of the secret gambling ring formed by Professor Mickey Rosa, a former gambler himself. British actor Sturgess is strangely uncharismatic in the lead role (the real student that this story is based upon is an Asian guy, but apparently the Hollywood types that made “21” decided that an Anglo would make a more box-office worthy leading man), which adds to the drudgery of watching the flick.
His fellow students/gamblers, including Kate Bosworth as a rocket scientist (uh huh, right), and token Asians Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira (they get the secondary roles, not the leads, and both are portrayed as less-than-capable characters) also give flat, uninteresting performances. Even veteran Laurence Fishburne, as the crafty casino enforcer watching out for cheaters, seem to be going through the motions, creating a paint-by-the-numbers tough guy that we have seen endlessly in previous films.
The worst parts about “21,” however, are the gaping plot holes. For example, the two women in the crew (Bosworth and Lapira) are supposed to be MIT geniuses, but for no clear reason, they cannot possibly head up the team. As Spacey’s character explains, it is because they are women that they cannot be leaders. Huh? And if Campbell is so smart, why does he hide $300,000 in the ceiling of his dorm room? Hasn’t he ever heard of a safe deposit box in a bank? Seems they are still holding on to sexist attitudes and that they don’t teach practical things at MIT, at least not in the movies. And the “duh?” moments go on and on as the film progresses, taking you right out of any disbelief you might have suspended.
If you are not squirming in your seat and looking at your watch before the first hour of this film has unspooled, you are the kind of person that enjoys watching other people play blackjack on television. For anyone else in the world, “21” is a deathly dull reminder that watching other people gamble is not exactly fun, unless they are handing you the chips they win.
||(Updated 3/27/08 ES)