Arts

21

For many Americans, Las Vegas seems to be the land of opportunities. With world-class casinos, luxury hotels and an exclusive nightlife, Sin City attracts millions of people from around the world, all of whom hope to win big. However, those famous casinos are notorious for having outrageous odds stacked in their favor. So, when a group of MIT students took Vegas for hundreds of thousands of dollars during the ’80s and ’90s by counting cards, it was only a matter of time before they landed book and movie deals. Based loosely on Ben Mezrich’s 2002 bestseller “Bringing Down the House,” “21” focuses on Ben Campbell’s (Jim Sturgess) Senior year at MIT. Accepted to Harvard’s Pre-Med program, Ben has no means to pay the $300,000 tuition and must rely on the possibility of a scholarship. When Ben proves to be a mathematical genius in one of his classes, he is approached by MIT professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), a former card-counter who put together a team of highly intelligent students to cheat Las Vegas casinos out of their money. Intrigued by the possibility of money, women and the high-roller life, Ben joins Micky’s team and is soon taking flights out to Las Vegas and winning thousands at Blackjack. But while Ben lives the good life on weekends, his MIT friendships suffer, stretched between Boston and Vegas. With a fairly young cast, “21” comes across as an “Ocean’s” movie for teens. Both movies feature high-stakes gambling and schemes to beat the system, but “21” doesn’t have the sheer amount of twists and turns that the “Ocean’s” series does. For a movie about taking risks, “21” is surprisingly conventional. One of first things you notice in “21” is the impressive cast. Respected stars such as Laurence Fishburne, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey work alongside newcomers like Jim Sturgess, with strong acting across the board. Unfortunately, the majority of the cast is terribly under-used. While it’s interesting to watch the young Ben Campbell face off with his manipulative teacher, it’s easy to forget about the other people on the team. The character development of the bit parts is poor, to say the least. It would have been nice if the writer had fleshed out the rest of the team instead of settling for mere caricatures. On the other hand, a lot of effort was obviously put into the editing and camera work. Director Robert Luketic used lighting to give his film a slick feel. When Ben is studying in Boston, the shots look grey and boring. The moment he steps on a plane and travels to Vegas, everything looks bright and vibrant. The music editing is equally impressive; the song choices match up perfectly with the shots. Luketic blends solid cinematography with some great music. Unfortunately, the movie’s predictability manages to drag it down. Within the first five minutes of the film, the ending becomes obvious. Just like counting cards, the entire plot follows a formula. By itself, “21” is an amazing story. However, when you take into account all the clichés, the risk and excitement of Ben’s actions becomes almost banal. “21” should be fun in its own, unique way, and yet the final product ends up hindered by its own gimmicks. “21” is really not a bad movie. It’s a nice way to spend a few hours. The acting is good, the plot is enjoyable and the editing shines. But the movie fails to think outside of the box. And because of that, it goes from a “must see” movie to something you could miss. “21” isn’t horrible, and isn’t great. Instead, it’s just forgettable. Grade: 4