Within five minutes you 21 is going to fizzle and it does. Based upon the true story and subsequent book about some MIT students that get involved in a blackjack card counting scheme in Vegas should be involving enough, but the only thing you actually buy in this movie is that people count cards. The character’s relationships, the step-by-step progression through the story, you don’t buy any of it, and the biggest fault of the film is – it’s boring!
Who’s to blame? It’s certainly not the cast of talented and charming actors. The most inspiring moment of the film is Kevin Spacey’s first five minutes on camera as the MIT instructor that leads the pack of five hungry students into a world most people only dream of, then he falls flat in the quagmire of what’s to come. Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) is affable enough as the lead, and will go on to make better movies.
Kate Bosworth is gorgeous and enjoyable (I like her a lot), but as in her last few movies (Superman, Beyond the Sea – also both starring Mr. Spacey) she doesn’t quite have the chops to stand above a bad script with poor direction. My friend says she should stick to Cameron Diaz type roles, which she has done well in the past with (Win a Date With Ted Hamilton, Blue Crush). Here she has the most fun on screen when she’s tossing around a Southern accent as one of her fake identities (let’s see her play more roles like that – give her some character!!) Laurence Fishburne’s character is so incredibly hammy in the way he’s presented and dealt with. You buy none of what happens! Nothing!!!
Here’s the problem with 21. Director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Win a Date With Ted Hamilton) and screenwriters Peter Steinfeld (Analyze That, Be Cool – both atrocious sequels) and Allan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire) don’t know what to do with this movie. They capture the cheese of Vegas, not the excitement. You get the feeling that things happen because that’s what’s supposed to happen in a movie or screenplay:
Brilliant main character turns down offer to join card counting scheme, beautiful girl that he’s interested in just so happens to be one of the five people involved in the scheme and shows up to entice him to join, he goes along with it, he makes a move on her, she turns him down, she kisses him, they have sex (the one scene that I was looking forward to made me laugh out loud it was so cheesily staged and edited), he gets power hungry and his old best friends get pissy with him, he makes a mistake loses money, drives everyone away etc, etc, etc. Until you end up staring at the wall because it’s more interesting than watching the movie. Yes, this is the second movie in two weeks that I’ve ended up watching the wall rather than be subjected to the bright light before me.
The movie has no fun what-so-ever with these by the numbers plot points. There’s no motivation for 75% of the things the characters do, but this is what they were taught in film school. The movie unfolds just as robotically as my description of it. “It – hap – pens – be – cause – it – must.” You’ll notice I’ve spent half of this review naming other movies, because there’s nothing else that’s interesting enough to say about this movie.
Except for maybe this: in the casino’s they have signals that are supposed to let them know which tables are “hot”. The signal they use is so obvious and staged it’s no wonder they weren’t caught sooner. This movie is so obvious and staged I’m surprised it’s done so well at the box office. People were clapping at the end.