Once again, I wrangled the husband and convinced him to watch 21
with me. I was intrigued by this story when I first heard about
students at MIT playing Blackjack on the History Channel’s documentary
entitled Breaking Vegas: The True Story of the MIT Blackjack Team. 21
revolves around greed, money, Vegas, and Kevin Spacey — what was not
appealing about this movie? However, I was not ready for the unpleasant
ride that awaited me.
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a smarty-pants attending MIT. We watch
Ben as he practically begs an administrator at Harvard to award a
prestigious scholarship to him so he can attend Harvard’s renowned
Medical School on a full-ride. How will he ever afford the $300,000 to
go? By the way, if he’s having a difficult time going to Harvard because
of the tuition costs, are we to assume that the MIT tuition was also
paid for through a scholarship or are we supposed to believe that Ben
gets by on his $8 an hour job at a men’s suit store?
Sitting in a class taught by Kevin Spacey’s Mickey Rosa (sounds like a mobster), Ben sits dutifully in the front row while Rosa espouses about probability. When Ben explains his reasons for choosing a certain door in Rosa’s hokey attempt at playing Let’s Make a Deal,
Rosa’s eyes gleam and he glances too obviously at another student in
the class, Jimmy Fisher (Jacob Pitts). I look over at the husband — he’s
asleep. I’m going to have to endure this movie alone.
Ben is eventually introduced to Rosa’s Blackjack club, where Jill
Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Kianna (Liza Lapira), Jimmy Fisher (Jacob Pitts)
and Choi (Aaron Yoo) sit with silly smirks on their faces. Eventually,
Ben agrees to join because he wants to go to medical school, but you
just know that his need to calculate, gamble, and manipulate will take
Spacey portrays Rosa as the once-reigning king of Blackjack in Vegas. Spacey was going through the ultimate mid-life crisis in American Beauty; he was believable and you wanted to root for him. In David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross,
Spacey’s Williamson is vicious and has a God complex; his portrayal is
intentional and succinct. But in his last few films, like Superman Returns as Lex Luthor and Beyond the Sea
as the crooner Bobby Darin, Spacey has been over-the-top, and not in
any positive way. Rosa is a pimp to his Blackjack proteges. It’s
difficult to take Spacey (also a producer on the film) seriously in this
role. A wasted talent.
Kate Bosworth looks out of place in this film. Bosworth is a
beautiful, young woman and I’m sure there are plenty of beautiful, young
women who attend MIT, but she is completely miscast. This could have
been a role where Bosworth proves she is more than just a pretty face.
Instead, Jill relies too heavily on her feminine wiles and you can’t get
past her surface. She acts more like a cat, purring to get attention.
Sturgess’ movie career took off when he was cast in the role as Jude in Across the Universe.Unfortunately,
Sturgess can’t fulfill this role. With a script by Peter Steinfeld and
Allan Loeb, Ben is pathetic and boring, a sniveling young man who is
just a little too agreeable. Ben is a malleable creature and it’s easy
not to feel sympathy for his financial distress.
I was excited to see Laurence Fishburne, but then immediately
disappointed that he was connected to this train wreck. Fishburne is
Cole Williams, a casino security head who’s ready to nail anyone who
even thinks about cheating. Williams is physical and tough, but is a
caricature of a henchman. Hopefully Fishburne’s new role as a
pathologist on CSI will make everyone forget about his role in this
The movie is glossy and pretty, but has no substance. There’s too
much going on — cards, chips, girls, bright lights. I feel like I’ve
seen this movie before. The story isn’t what’s so familiar, but the way
director Robert Luketic’s style is erratic, too in-your-face and
Based on the Ben Mezrich book,Bringing Down the House,21
is a flighty film that never attains the stability needed to give a
rat’s you-know-what to care about the characters or the story itself.
The central figures in Mezrich’s book were primarily Asian, and yet the
studio took on creative liberties and cast a predominately white cast.
Don’t get me wrong — there are two Asians cast in the roles of Choi and
Kianna (Yoo and Lapira), but they’re portrayed as a kleptomaniac and a
whiny young adult. Is this what it means to be an MIT student?
I struggled through the last half of the movie through the husband’s snoring. That’s what 21 is — a total snore, even with all the allure of the bright lights of Vegas.
21, rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual content, and brief nudity
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne
Directed by Robert Luketic
Screenplay by Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb