21 Reviewby [email protected] (sdo230 AT gmail DOT com)
March 27th, 2008
a little review by Sam Osborn of www.TheMovieMammal.com
March is a fine time to dump off mini-blockbusters like 21. Last year saw Disturbia, brandishing a similarly rising star in Shia LaBeouf as 21 has with Jim Sturgess. Not likely to rake in as much coin as other Summertime tentpoles, these medium-sized studio pics serve up medium- sized entertainment. They're mild and standard, passable and pleasing.
Drowning in student loans and facing another $300,000 for graduate school at Harvard Med, Ben Campbell is a longshot candidate for an extremely selective full-ride scholarship. He's told he needs life experience; something that will jump off the page of his application. Some brush with his own existence that makes him worthy of a scholarship of such magnitude. Hmmmm. And from this early scene we can prophesy the whole trajectory of the film. But no matter, Ben's alternately heroic and harrowing adventures in cheating Vegas should hold excitement enough to erase the boredom of a predictable plot device. But as his adventures are alternately heroic and harrowing, the film version of this true-to-life story is alternately fun and forgettable.
Kevin Spacey quickly slithers in, smiling like Lucifer himself, charming and wisecracking Ben onto his team of professional card counters. Kate Bosworth's there, playing Jill Taylor, MIT's "it" girl. And so too is Aaron Yoo from Disturbia, ironically playing the same nerdy Asian hipster he was cast for last year. The con is a weekend gig, flying to Vegas to work their legal scam at the blackjack tables, pooling their playacting and mathematical efforts to siphon out tens of thousands of dollars in two nights' work. Romance is forged and hubris grown as Ben blossoms into the team's rookie hotshot, all the while Cole Williams (Laurence Fisburne), the old-school security marshal for the casino, zeroes in on his prey.
21 has less wrong with it than it might have at less assured hands. Robert Luketic, director of such mini-blockbusters as Monster In-Law and Win a Date With Ted Hamilton!, has experience with this type of blandness. His characters, though maybe realistic, fail to be cinematically interesting. When Ben could spiral into greed or women, drugs or liquor, he instead has a night spent sick with a case of mild cockiness. The romance is stilted and cut short, Kate Bosworth spending more time in an MIT sweatshirt than anything else; the villains, Mr. Spacey and Mr. Fishburne, churn out their usual satisfying spectacles; and Jim Sturgess only proves that he can carry a film without having to sing Beatles songs. There's very little wrong with 21. Only, there's very little to remember, too.
21: Directed by Robert Luketic. Screenplay by Peter Steinfeld, Allan Loeb (based on the book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich). Starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth. MPAA Classification: PG-13
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