Director: Robert Luketic
"21" is a hugely entertaining film that manages to cram a truly wild story into a perfectly paced, large bucket of popcorn timescale.
The story begins with geeky prodigy Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) being interviewed for a place at Harvard Medical School. Ben can't afford the tuition fees and is desperate for a scholarship. His interviewer, though impressed by his perfect marks, asks him what life experience he has that sets him apart from the other candidates.
Cue a ridiculously enjoyable story about a group of gifted MIT students who go to Vegas on weekends and make a fortune by counting cards at the blackjack tables.
MIT Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) recruits Ben to the team after glimpsing his genius during a lecture. At first Ben is reluctant, even though his beautiful fellow student Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) is also on the team.
But Ben inevitably relents and agrees to go along with the scam just to make enough money to cover his $300,000 medical school fees. As the money starts pouring in, however, Ben adopts a dangerous double life: in Boston he's still a scholarly geek but in Vegas he's a big-tipping hotshot who's on first name terms with everyone. As Jill tells him: "In Vegas you can become anything you want."
The good times can't go on forever though. Old-school security chief, Cole Williams, (Laurence Fishburne) is determined to catch the team in the act of counting cards. In a nice little homage to a long history of Vegas-set films, Cole's casino is the last one not to have installed hi-tech face-reading software and he's determined to prove that you can't beat the human touch (complete with
Moreover, Ben gets greedy and, after losing a huge amount of money one night, incurs the wrath of his vindictive professor who threatens to use his influence to have him exiled from academia altogether.
Any Hollywood film predicated on the words "life experience" is going to end mushily, and sure enough "21" comes to a suitably mushy end. We just know that Ben will go back to his geeky, robot-making friends in Boston and put his mad days of counting cards in Vegas down to experience.
But the story is so cleverly controlled, and so well told, that it plays its hand to perfection. Indeed, I wouldn't even mind if Ben had a relapse and went back to count some more cards.
Opens in April 18 in Estonia and Latvia and May 9 in Lithuania