Written by Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb
Directed by Robert Luketic
Running Time: 2:03
for some violence, and sexual content
including partial nudity.
21 was a decent movie that had too many problems to be a really great film.
Ben is your typical overachiever who has loads of smarts but nothing much else going for him. That is until one of his professors senses something in him that will change his life forever. Ben is recruited onto a team of blackjack players who have the ability to count cards and tell if a table is 'hot' or 'cold'. With this skill they have the ability to win thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars from Las Vegas. However, while counting cards isn't technically illegal, it is frowned upon and if caught, they'll lose much more than their winnings.
So 21 was based on a true story, although I don't know the exact details of that story. The movie version of this true story felt too much like a movie, so I wonder how much was embellished for the cinema. The biggest problem with the film was that for the most part, there was no bad guy. It was kind of just about this kid who needs to make money to pay for medical school, becoming a blackjack shark. Which is all fine and dandy, but I kind of wished there was more to it. There's only so much blackjack you can watch before you get a little bored with it. Counting cards, while an impressive feat, isn't a very compelling thing to watch. They tried by having Ben memorize words and phrases so he'd know how to bet and when to do so. And they threw in a love angle to spice things up (with the ever lovely Kate Bosworth). And for good measure they tried to have a bad guy who may or may not be that bad. But in the end it's a movie about people playing cards and that isn't nearly enough to hang your hat on.
Apparently counting cards isn't illegal. I mean, how could it be? You're using your brain to a degree most people can't. Yes, casinos frown upon you cheating them, but how can you regulate someone's smarts? Do they still have security people who will take you into a room in the basement and beat you up for counting cards? I've only been to Vegas a couple of times and have never walked out with more money than I started, so I'm not all that much of a gambler. But even if you come to a table that's 'hot' wouldn't you lose at least once in a while? How is it possible to always win once you sit down? They have to recycle the deck every so often which means that no matter how good you are at counting, you have to start over again every few minutes. But at no time did they show that happen. Ben won every hand he played, until he had a meltdown that changed the course of the picture. It was a little too unbelievable.
None of this is to say that 21 was a bad movie. It was about 20 minutes too long, but for the most part I didn't check my watch a lot. I do enjoy gambling (even if I'm not good at it) so seeing the sights and sounds of Vegas was fun. And the movie was surprisingly funny. One of the story lines has Ben drifting away from his geek friends, but when he's with them, they're a pretty hilarious combination. And the poker buddies he makes are all pretty fun as well, even the drunk one whose skills have diminished to the point he gets sent back to the minors. For a film with a lot of issues (like serious continuity problems) it was very witty.
The ending of the movie felt very forced. It was like the writers knew that this wasn't the kind of film that really had an ending, so they tacked one on the dealt with the security guy and the professor and a large con by the students. The entire film was bookended by a meeting with an admissions person, but even that didn't seem real. I would go read the book the film is based on, but I have a feeling that was also embellished. What I need to find is a real account of what happened, because I bet it wasn't nearly as interesting as it's made out to be. Just the fact it happened is probably the big story.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall I didn't think 21 was a great movie, but it was interesting. They could have easily chopped off about 20-30 minutes and made it flow a little better. It's not necessarily something that needs to be seen in theaters.
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