Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Robert Luketic
Screenwriter: Peter Steinfeld, Allan Loeb
Predictable movies can be a lot of fun, if the right tone is taken, or if the predictability can always be seen as secondary to the rest of the experience. Unfortunately, 21 makes the mistake of being both predictable, and after a point, quite boring. I kept asking myself, “Where’s the suspense? Where’s the action? Where’s the compelling nature upon which this story is based?”
21 tells the story of a group of MIT students who have learned, through the help of their professor that the game of blackjack can be beat. They then decide to go to Las Vegas and take the casinos for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The protagonist is Ben Campbell, played by Jim Sturgess. Ben needs money to get into Harvard Med. He’s struggling to find the money. But then, through his own sheer mathematical brilliance, is recruited by his professor, Micky (played here by Kevin Spacey in an easily forgettable role) to be a part of his card-counting team. Ben’s initial reluctance to join is finally overcome through the help of (durh!) the girl he has a crush on, Jill (Kate Bosworth) who always happens to be a part of the card-counting team.
So, to make a long story short, you all know how it goes: guy joins, he wins big, gets the girl, there’s tensions in the team, things settle down, he loses it all and then has to find some way to save face. Everything goes according to the cliché plan. There are no surprises. No interest past the first half hour. Where I was originally intrigued by what the story might offer, I felt bored. Could it be, I thought, that the screenwriter and director had just taken every cliché in Roger Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary and used them? To get this disgustingly predictable, it would be the only way as I see it.
After Across The Universe, I think many people may have felt Sturgess had a bright future ahead of him. But if he keeps making movies this bad, his fame will be short lived. Something else bothers me about the fact that he’s even the lead here: he’s white, and he’s English. The actual MIT students from the actual story upon which 21 is based were, for the most part, Asian. Did the filmmakers just think having a white lead would make things more interesting, or would connect more with the audience? I find it more than a little stupid. Also, because he’s English, they had to hire a voice coach to teach him how to speak with an American accent. And he’s not even that good.
In the end, the concept that could have been an intriguing and interesting story is bogged down by a complete, sickening predictability, an utter lack of respect for the source material, and a promising male lead who ends up falling horribly flat. Not because he’s a bad actor, but because he never should have been cast in the movie in the first place. The film is just a gigantic failure.