What’s the Count?

by Alan Rapp on March 28, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: 21
  • IMDB: link

“In Vegas you can become anyone you want.”

21-movie-poster

The movie centers around Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a promising mathematican at MIT who has been accepted to Harvard Medical School but lacks the funds to enroll.

Ben is approached by one of his professors (Kevin Spacey) and offered a unique opportunity to join a team of talented students (Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts) who count cards in Vegas during the weekend.  At first Ben refuses the offer, but the temptation is strong, especially when the girl he has lusted over for months, Jill (Bosworth), begs him to join the team.  And after all Ben can always stop after he earns enough for school.  Yeah, right.

When the film deals with temptation, it works amazingly well.  Ben is thrust into a world, despite his intelligence and talent, he is ill-prepared for.  He becomes disconnected from his best friends (Josh Gad, Sam Golzari), lies to his mother (Helen Carey), and becomes completely infatuated with winning and the new lifestyle which comes with it.

The film also includes a side plot about an old school security guard (Laurence Fishburne) employed to keep card counters out of the casinos, and his dislike for counters.

The set-up of the con, is much more interesting than the actually play, which really is nothing more than turning over cards and watching stacks grow.  It’s much more fun to see the team plan out and explain the con to Ben, or count their money afterwards, than to watch them actually play blackjack.

Also an issue for me was the humor, especially early on, found in many scenes which seemed oddly out of place.  The film includes many one-liners followed by beats of silence.  These, I assume, are in place to allow the audience to laugh, the trouble is they just aren’t funny and seem better placed for two-drumbeats and the crashing of a symbol on a late, late, late night talk show.

When the film sticks to the basic tale of temptation and consequences it works well.  There are a few plot twist late in the film which you should see coming, and you wonder, honestly, how one of the characters, all of whom are presented as highly intelligent, could possibly miss them.  And even if it doesn’t give you much more information about blackjack or counting cards than what you entered the theater with, it’s still an enjoyable ride.

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