21 is the screen adaptation of the 2003 book ‘Bringing Down the House’ (which should not to be confused with the 2003 ‘comedy’ smash-hit film starring Queen Latifah and Steve Martin), written by Ben Mezrich. It tells the story of a group of 20-something MIT students who, after some rather dodgy extracurricular classes with their teacher Mickey Rosa (Spacey), decide to spend their weekends earning vast sums of money at the blackjack tables in Vegas. Throw in Kate Bosworth and the chance to earn vast sums of money in exchange for playing a game, using a system that you can’t lose at (but may have to kop the occasional beating for, from Lawrence Fishburne’s grumpy security guard), and I think the vast majority would agree quickly without the verbose posturing. Preferably without the beating.
The film begins rather slowly, and even as I am writing this I cannot actually recall the opening half hour of it, as I think I was looking out of the window at a passing plane. That’s never a good start for a film, especially coming from a man who sat through every minute of Blade Trinity. To be fair to the movie, it does liven up once Spacey’s Mickey Rosa appears, as the mysterious college lecturer who is intent on leading young Ben Cambell (British actor Jim Sturgess) astray. Campbell is reluctant, but relents after a little coaxing from the (all American) girl next door type, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), and agrees to join the team. He does so under the proviso that after he gets the $300,000 he needs to get into Harvard Med, he’s out.
From here on in it’s film by numbers stuff, thanks to the typical training montage, replete with the final test at an underground casino that (unsurprisingly) he passes with flying colors. Heck, he even manages to keep the count after being dragged away from the table with a piece of shroud over his head.
Once the film goes to Vegas, the film does liven up a bit more and the young team come into their own on the casino floor, with sexy disguises, secret hand gestures and lots of lime and soda. It looks slick and fast paced, but in reality it lacks the depth of the source material, which in itself is a very interesting story and the one I actually wanted to see.
The DVD does have the typical director’s commentary and featurettes, one of which is actually worth a mention. For The Advantage Player featurette has the members of the cast and crew explaining the mathematical system that got the real MIT students their millions.
Whilst the film raises a few laughs, looks quite slick, it really lacks the depth I was hoping for. It feels to light and fluffy for the subject, and that lets it down in a big way.