Monday, May 5, 2008

21 not quite blackjack on the screen

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By Ryan Thomas

For the second time, both in his career and in the course of a year, Jim Sturgess lights up the silver screen. This time he is leading the cast of 21, directed by Robert Luketic. Although it is slightly disappointing when compared to the book, due to the many liberties the movie takes with the true story, 21 is fun (if not fresh) and worth seeing.

Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a genius M.I.T. student dreaming of Harvard Med School. His only obstacle is the 300K tuition, which, as a lower-middle-class working stiff, he has no way to earn. This soon changes when his advanced math teacher spots his immense talents, and contrives to lure Ben into a high-risk, higher-payoff Blackjack outfit.

Mickey Rosa, played by Kevin Spacey, corals the brightest minds M.I.T. has to offer in an attempt to re-live his card counting glory days: a time when he took Vegas for 7-figures in a single night, before being pushed into an early retirement by casino security thugs. But this dandy piece of info is kept secret from the team, who gladly walk the fine line between beating the house and getting beaten, for the chance to strike it rich.

Campbell changes all this from the instant he enters the team, lured in by his dream girl, Jill (also a fictional component of the film). Fisher, the group’s former big shot, is envious of Ben’s brilliance; Rosa is determined to exploit Campbell as well as he can, even if that means splitting apart the already loose bonds of friendship and trust in the team; Ben is willing to do whatever it takes to reach Harvard, and eager to take Jill with him if he can. The growing tension makes for a spectacular climax, made possible by a rogue security guard with a grudge against Rosa (played by Cole Williams)

21 is, if nothing else, a great ride. Though slightly confusing at points, it nonetheless keeps the viewer engaged and entertained. However, those looking for a more satisfying experience could try reading “Bringing Down the House”, the actual and, possibly, more exciting account of the real-life M.I.T. card-counting club.

Ryan’s Rating

2.5 Stars; 6 out of 10; 1 thumb up and 1 down; or the equivalent.

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