Tuesday, April 8, 2008


“21” (Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey & Kate Bosworth)

About an hour into this film I thought of whispering to my wife, “Are you as bored with this as I am?” Instead I waited until it gratefully ended & said, “I know one thing for sure – You enjoyed this movie a hell of a lot more than I did.” Just for the record, she did; she kind of liked it.
Where do I begin to tell you how wrong she is – I guess we could compare it to last year’s “Lucky You” & say it isn’t that much better. Suffice it to say – movies about card games suck. What separates this from “Lucky You” is better acting (from Sturgess & Spacey) but “21” is insufferably boring with numerous plot holes & a whole lot of ‘I Don’t Care!’
The premise is interesting, it’s what drew me to see this in the first place; Jim Sturgess plays MIT student/wannabe Doctor Ben Campbell. He has the smarts, but not the dough to be successful at reaching this goal. When teacher Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) offers Ben a shot at joining his team of card counters, a hesitant Ben says no; then, for a reason that is never expressed, turns around & says yes. Ben is taught the rules of the team; Signals from the lesser intelligent members of the team tell the smart guys which table to play; various cue words let the big money player know where the card count currently stands. Looking a little old to be playing a co-ed, Kate Bosworth plays Jill, the sexiest college girl in Massachusetts (according to this film) Looking much too old for young Ben, the inevitable pairing up takes place – again, for no apparent reason, since she rejects his advances earlier on.
What this movie lacks is ‘reason’ – it is established by Rosa from the beginning that card counting is NOT illegal & yet casino security expert Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne in a role I hope he wishes he never undertook) feels it is okay to beat the living snot out of those he catches counting cards. Though I’ve never been there, I’m fairly sure there are more than a couple of casinos in Las Vegas – So why does this group of card counters continually camp out at the one Cole Williams watches like a hawk?
Supposed genius Ben takes to putting his cut of the loot in his dorm at school. I’d say once it gets to six figures, an intelligent person would take that money out of his mattress & put it in a bank. Especially after one member of the team gets booted off for getting drunk & blowing a big score – a member of the team that Ben usurped to take the #1 spot on Rosa’s team. I’d say only an idiot would stash over $300,000 in cash in his dorm room. Gee, I wonder if somebody steals it?
Time & time again I kept coming back to the fact that if what they were doing wasn’t illegal – where’s the suspense? & why is one head of security 'judge, jury & executioner' in Vegas? (At one point Cole tells Ben – if I see you in my casino again, I’ll kill you.”) Easily solved is it not? – stay out of Cole Williams’ casino! Apparently these matheletes can’t figure that one out. So if it isn’t illegal to count cards, but it is illegal to beat someone senseless – how is it Cole Williams holds all the cards in this flick?
Like I said, I’ve never been to Vegas, but I’ve done some gambling in my day & as far as I know, casino security guards are not allowed to beat people up for winning money at the tables... Is this why they say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Because after seeing this supposedly ‘true’ story – I don’t ever want to go there in the first place!


Anonymous said...

Movies about gambling on cards are not inherently tedious. "The Cincinnati Kid," for example, was entertaining.

Movies about gambling on cards can be tedious if the plot is poorly constructed and the dialog is less than sparkling. You are correct that "21" was not scripted well.

That failing is all the more appalling in that the script-writers worked from "Bringing Down the House," a nonfiction account of counting cards.

That said, you disdain Vegas without good reason. Do you habitually judge locales by movies allegedly set in those locales? Are your opinions of the Riviera (either the hotel in Vegas or the coastline in France) products of Bond films? Have you stayed away from the Vegas Strip because Lana Wood might land on you?

I agree that stashing valuables above ceiling tiles in a dormitory room is stupid. (See "An Officer and a Gentleman" for details.) I also agree that disguises and techniques were not well thought out. Why these flaws afflicted the film, however, seems to elude you. These flaws are in the film because the juveniles at whom the film was aimed crave simplicity and repetition lest they get lost.

Terry Reid said...

I am ignorant on Vegas & France - never been there, never done that. However, if there's a CHANCE Lana Wood might land on me(provided I was to go back in time) I would catch the next flight to Vegas!

I like to think of myself as a 52 year old 'juvenile', so I guess I should have caught those flaws from the onset.

eddie said...

great idea for a movie but horrbily casted. movie came up short. spacey is much better than the material is has been doing the last few years.

terry r. said...

Yes, what has happened to the career of Kevin Fowler?(His real name) For me he hasn't been in anything decent since 2003 because I was one of the few people that enjoyed 'The Life Of David Gale' - for most, I think you'd have to go back to '99 & 'American Beauty' - I film I did not enjoy all that much. It has been quite a while since Kevin's glory days of 'L.A. Confidential', 'A Time To Kill', 'The Usual Suspects', 'The Ref' & my personal favorite Spacey performance - '7'.