Was it worth the gamble?

PUBLISHED: 14:23 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 17:10 16 August 2010

INSPIRED by the real-life story of a group of card counting students who took on the mighty casinos of Las Vegas and won,


Cert 12A

INSPIRED by the real-life story of a group of card counting students who took on the mighty casinos of Las Vegas and won, 21 is somewhat akin to a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling in the player's lounge - glitzy and glamorous, but ultimately hollow.

Fiendishly smart M.I.T. undergrad Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) has a problem, he desperately wants to go to Harvard medical school, and while he has been offered a place at the prestigious university, he doesn't like his chances of getting a scholarship. This leaves him needing to find the $300,000 in tuition fees himself.

The solution comes in the form of Professor Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who wants the mathematically-gifted Ben to join his card counting cabal which is cleaning up at blackjack tables the length of the strip. At first Ben turns down the offer, but is finally persuaded by the feminine wiles of deliciously attractive team member Jill (Kate Bosworth).

After an initial flurry of success, it turns out that scamming casinos is not as easy as it first seemed and the group run into some serious trouble in the form of Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne).

Williams, a burly casino security guard and old enemy of Rosa, is in danger of being replaced by facial recognition software if he fails to catch them.

The mechanics of the card counting system are quickly glossed over and are so basic one has to wonder why the professor needed nerdy math-whiz students to understand it.

Any attempt to investigate the characters' motivations or consciences is largely ignored in favour of flashy camera work and soft-focus sex scenes.

Director Robert Luketic gives the film the usual vapid spangly Hollywood treatment, complete with swooping helicopter pans of the casino buildings and kinetic tracking shots of the gaming tables all set to a bland modern rock soundtrack.

Spacey is at his most nauseating as the smug, self-satisfied professor, and the young leads do little to add any depth to their generic, one-dimensional characters. By choosing to keep one eye on the dollar bill at all times the film's producers have turned an intriguing real-life story of genuine daring into a lifeless and unoriginal Hollywood snoozefest.


* 21 opens in cinemas

April 11.

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