Saturday, April 05, 2008

New Movie Review: "21"

The list of movies dealing with card games is long. The list of good movies that deal with card games is significantly lower. The movie 21 will not find itself on the latter list, but it is somewhat entertaining and isn't too boring (though it is never too exciting either, as it follows cliche after cliche).

The story, which is more inspired by than based upon the nonfiction book "Bringing Down the House," follows Ben (Jim Sturgess, Jude from Across the Universe) as an MIT student needing to pay for Harvard Medical School. Appling for a scholarship, the man in charge says Ben needs to dazzle, jump off the page, to get a free ride. Of course, that suggestion eventually leads to Ben's decision to join up with Professor Rosa (Kevin Spacey) and his group of students, one of which is Kate Bosworth, as they try to count cards in blackjack. I say eventually because there are two or three scenes after Rosa approaches Ben where Ben completely shuts him down. It isn't new territory to say the least when a main character denies, denies, denies, then accepts somewhat out of the blue, or after a lackluster motivational plot comes up (in this case, in the form of a check Ben's mom gives him to pay for tuition).

From there, the movie picks up, as we are introduced to another character: Vegas. Vegas becomes Ben's focal point, abandoning his two best friends and becoming the place where he says "he can become anybody." It is quite funny for him to say that, and for the other members of the group to sometimes adapt disguises to hide themselves, but Jim Sturgess never dons one until the end. Even Kate Bosworth gets in some hideous wigs and accents. Talking about accents, Sturgess's Boston accents comes and goes with hilarious effect. It is quite interesting to see after remembering his British accent in Across the Universe. Sturgess is from the UK.

Back to the plot: once it kicks in, everything you come to expect happens. Sturgess because a great card counter, invoking jealousy in one other counter, he eventually gets caught by a security guy played by Lawrence Fishbourne, Ben abandons his friends back home and starts to lose, falls out with Spacey, etc. I won't spoil the ending, but chances are, you already know it.

Despite all that, the movie is okay. Nothing too great, but nothing mind numbing. It is interesting to see card ocunting portrayed on the big screen and the system that was used comes to life quite well. Spacey plays the ambigious bad guy well (his Luthor should be as teeming with nefarious intentions under the skin as Rosa). But, in the end, the movie shows there is nothing knew under the sun and it really should have tried to take some more risks and hit on the soft 17.

2 1/2 Hand Signals out of 5.

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