Wednesday, August 06, 2008

21: Much Too Safe For A Black Jack Flick

21 (black jack drama)
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts and Laurence Fishburne
Director: Robert Luketic

Time: 1220 mins

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Jim Sturgess and Laurence Fishburne in '21'

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Ben Mezrich's novel, 'Bringing Down the House' is a real life story about how a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students take Las Vegas casinos for millions at the game of Black Jack using a system known as card-counting. In '21', directed by Robert Luketic (of 'Legally Blonde' fame), the story is rewritten by screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb to include all the cliches of movies about college life, maintaining only its theme of card-counting.

The result is a very 'safe' and formulaic movie - with the customary romantic 'drama curve' (boy-gets-girl, they break up and then make up, that sort of thing), and the mandatory twist at the ending. It's all a safe bet of a movie.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Nerdy MIT student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) needs US$300,000 to get into Harvard medical school. He applies for a scholarship but is told that there are 72 other talented students who are also vying for the money.

However, Ben's fantastic memory and talent with figures are noticed by Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who recruits him into his five-member team of card-counters. Ben is taught, trained and tested - and then let loose at the Vegas casinos where Ben, his newfound love interest Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) and the other gamesters prove their mettle.
Soon, their activities catch the attention of Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne), the head of security at Planet Hollywood, and a match of wits ensues...

HITS & MISSES: It is obvious that the film-makers are only interested in portraying the interpersonal cliches of the college kids rather than expounding on the card-counting plot. There is no coherent description of how the card counting system works - and how 'disadvantaged' the croupier becomes in a 'winning' situation for the kids. After a while, the movie becomes a sort of college movie - with a subplot about Ben's close friends who get sidelined in their efforts to enter for a robotics competition.
And then there is the customary romance between Ben and Jill which is so cliched and contrived that one can predict how it develops.

Actingwise, we cannot fault Sturgess (last seen in Across The Universe) or Taylor ('Lois Lane' of 'Superman Returns') or supporting stars like Aaron Yoo (as Choi) and Liza Lapira (as Kianna). Spacey and Fishburne earn their keep here - for adding the much needed intensity to the movie.

THE LOWDOWN: It is such a 'safe bet' that it tends to be thrill-less for a movie about Black Jack and Vegas.


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