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April 16, 2008 > Movie Review: 21 - An entertaining fare

Movie Review: 21 - An entertaining fare

By Joe Samagond

"21" is loosely based on the book "Bringing Down the House," about the experiences of MIT student Jeff Ma and his fellow smart students who devise a scheme to take Las Vegas casinos for millions of dollars. It features plenty of glitzy cinematography and a cast of well-known actors plus some up-and-coming ones.

It contains all the elements of an exciting youth-oriented "Ocean's Eleven." The movie paints an entertaining, if simplified, version of a casino-beating money-making strategy, to the point that some viewers may be tempted to use the movie as a primer (please don't). Jim Sturgess stars as Ben Campbel, an MIT student with a "Pentium chip" mind who reluctantly agrees to join math-and-stats professor Micky Rosa, played by Spacey with his familiar sarcasm, and blackjack card-counters so he can raise the $300,000 he needs for four years of Harvard Medical School. Under the stewardship of Rosa, Ben joins the other students in an elaborate system that involves assigning a number to each table based on how many low (or high) cards have been dealt. Laurence Fishburne is the casino security chief rival they face off against, whose old-school tactics are threatened by the emergence of "biometric facial recognition software." His past run-in with Rosa provides an interesting angle to the story.

"21", which refers to both the game and the milestone these college students reach at that age as they approach graduation, embracing maturity or wrecking their lives. One disconcerting feature of the movie is that it breezes along as if knowledge of this con game is fairly common. As for those female members of the team, though they were supposedly chosen by Rosa for their math skills, they seem to primarily hang around to look cute in scanty attire and flirt with the guys doing all the serious stuff.

The film carries a hip atmosphere and does impress with its central stormy romance. A key takeaway is society's obsessive love-hate relationship with money and how the desperate need to possess it can summon our worst instincts, corrupting and destroying people. There's also another message - gambling makes a mess of your life.

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 123 minutes.

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