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USA 2008
Directed by
Robert Luketic
123 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


The opening titles for 21 claim that it is "inspired by" the real-life story of a group of M.I.T. students who took Las Vegas for millions, however “inspired” is a serious misrepresentation of the film’s quality.

Kevin Spacey plays M.I.T. mathematics professor Micky Rosa who has put together a successful team of his best students to go a-card-counting in Las Vegas. When undergrad Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) impresses him with his smarts he immediately invites him to join the team. Ben, who lives with his waitress single mother, is in competition with seventy-two other students for a $300,000 scholarship which will enable him to get into Harvard medical school so despite his misgivings, he decides to join.

Initially the team prosper big time and, even better his good-looking team mate, Jill (Kate Bosworth), responds to his romantic attentions. Of course, as we know will happen, eventually he loses all the team’s money as well as the girl, and somewhat surprisingly (it is after all a modern post-Mob Vegas, ends up in a casino basement getting an old school whupping from the head of casino security (Laurence Fishburne). Is it the end of Ben's dreams? Well, no, of course not, it’s not that kind of movie.

Based on a best-selling book "Bringing Down the House" by Ben Mezrich adapted by  Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb the script is formulaic and director Luketic, whose C.V. is wall-to-wall run-of-the-mill entertainments, spins it out with clutch of familiar devices, montage being prominent.  Whilst Spacey, who was also a producer, provides a bit of roughage (given that you like his sarcastic schtick), the rest of the cast with the exception of Josh Gadd are bland to the point of being irrelevant.

British actor Sturgess who was well-suited to the Beatles-inspired (this time the compliment is justified) musical Across the Universe, released the previous year, is ill-suited to the role and why his Ben is at M.I.T. is never explained.  Outright annoying is the smug,smart-alecky tone of the film, which with its scant regard for real world plausibility, seems at best intended for a young adult audience.




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