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21 - Movie Review
By Nia Ferguson - March 28, 2008

21, with Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, & Kevin Spacey
21, with Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, & Kevin Spacey
 
Laurence Fishburne, Spencer Garrett & Jack McGee in 21
Laurence Fishburne, Spencer Garrett & Jack McGee in 21
 
Kate Bosworth, Jim Sturgess & Kevin Spacey in 21
Kate Bosworth, Jim Sturgess & Kevin Spacey in 21
 
Jim Sturgess, Jacob Pitts, Liza Lapira, Kate Bosworth & Kevin Spacey in 21
Jim Sturgess, Jacob Pitts, Liza Lapira, Kate Bosworth & Kevin Spacey in 21
 
Kate Bosworth in 21
Kate Bosworth in 21
 
Kevin Spacey & Jim Sturgess in 21
Kevin Spacey & Jim Sturgess in 21
Pick a card, any card... well perhaps not just any card. In the film 21, Harvard hopeful Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), would have to first introduce you to the means of card counting, a mathematical system that never fails to deliver luck on your behalf. In 21 the fresh faced youngster spends his days as a burgeoning MIT genius, forced to swallow his pride and wait on customers for a mere eight bucks an hour to cover his tuition. Often found accompanied by his two foolhardy buds Miles (Josh Gad) and Terry (Jack McGee) we can sense the underlying desire for Ben to spread his wings and explore his full potential. It wasn’t a surprise to watch his eyes expand in glee, when after an impressive performance during lecture, Professor Rosa (Kevin Spacey) invites him to not only join MIT’s lucrative Blackjack team, but to lead it.

In 21, Dark blue hues, smoke filled alleyways and a sinister glow of the moon, all paint the premonition of the impending danger looming around Ben’s choice to accept. Still deciding to keep his grunt job, he glances half heartedly at the scribbled down address of the “crew’s” first meeting: a seedy casino bar downtown. After passing his initiation phase, Ben accompanies the squad with full faith to embark on their assigned journey to overtake the gambling epicenter of the world: Sin City. Cinematography shines in 21, giving Las Vegas a gritty, passionate, yet dimly lit undertone, capturing the tragic beauty of night life, while creating a seductive invisible supporting character of its own.

Counting cards, which was once pitched as an innocently intelligent means to make the three hundred thousand dollars Ben needed for graduate school, quickly becomes an identity altering, signal flagging scam proceeding to catch the eyes of The Palms Hotel head security architect Cole William (Laurence Fishbourne). Laurence Fishbourne was perfectly cast in this film as the beady eyed, hard handed police detective, once a card counter himself, now determined to unravel the schemes of the next generation of talented masterminds.

“Some people lose control and give in to their emotions while gambling. You never will,” Professor Rosa proclaims to Ben, explaining why he has the natural know how to lead their team to financial triumph. I felt this line was of particular significance in depicting the rationale and purpose behind this film. In 21, Director Robert Luketic gives the audience some insight into what, how and why some people are destined to excel in the game of chance. It all comes back to emotions. That human condition, which if not checked, can sway an impulsive bet out of turn, yet if dominated, can transform each game of Blackjack to a magical “21.” That same magical number that our protagonist, Ben, just so happens to be turning for his birthday. Plot coincidence? I think not.

The minutes continue to build upon each other as the Blackjack squad grows in increasing power and influence, easily taking in thousands of dollars each night. The camera tricks never cease to amaze as we watch a visually composed paradox each and every time Ben plays cards; his surroundings speed up in a tornado blur, while his hands touch the table in pre-meditated slow motion. Rather than merely hear what it takes to be a star player, the cinematographer takes the time to show us. Despite the pressure, the excitement and the women, Ben Campbell never lost sight of the cards, his cool and his game.

Although visually stunning, I was a bit disappointed by 21’s predictability of the plot’s path throughout the film. Yes, the card counting trick is quite clever, but I secretly yearned for a more innovative, perhaps bizarre device for outsmarting Las Vegas casinos. As a result, I couldn’t help but compare 21 to its famous predecessor Rain Man, which at the time brought to the table a fresh, engaging tale of not only an external conflict of beating the system, but an autistic man’s internal struggle to overcome his mental mishap and rid the stigma it brings along. In 21, the lead character Ben is already blessed with the mental know how to excel in the card counting process, leaving not nearly enough obstacles to overcome and make this film that much more appealing.

The character relationships tended to border a bit on the fragile, seemingly flimsy side, with no real intimacy or chemistry between anyone. Would I blame the actors? Possibly yes. Although I do feel that the script lacked enough substantive glue to bond and dig deeper within the surface personality each character embodied. A lifeless love scene took place between the two Blackjack squad members, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) and Ben. Although shot in front of a breathtaking view of The Palms Hotel fountain waterfalls, it failed to capture what it was that drew Kate Bosworth’s and Jim Sturgess’s characters to one another.

Fists are thrown, stakes are high and one can’t help but desire to visit the infamous Sin City after watching these young masterminds hit gold with each and every touch of their fingertips in the film, 21. Adrenaline will undoubtedly pump through your veins as each scene cuts in and out of strip clubs, limousines and swanky hotel suites. Each was jam packed with color saturated shots of the most expensive sights that Las Vegas has to offer.

21 may not provide a deep character driven plot, but it will undoubtedly fill your eyes with candy, while giving you the chance to live vicariously as a Las Vegas “winner,” and witness the glory, the lights and the exhilaration that only a night in Sin City can bestow.

“21”
Rated PG-13. Runtime 123 min. Theatrical release 3/28/2008.

PR.com Rating: B

21 - Movie Review


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