21 Robert Luketic

21 Robert Luketic
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturges) is a young M.I.T. student who’s brilliant at math but a bit lacking in the "having a life” department. He impresses the heck out of Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), his Non-Linear Equations prof and gets inducted into a secret club of card-counters who, under Mickey’s tutelage, fly to Vegas every weekend and make a killing at the blackjack tables. Not by gambling, as sensei Spacey reminds them, but by playing a system. Ben is a good boy from a nice family, working hard for a scholarship to Harvard med, when the glitzy world of high stakes non-gambling (it’s a system, remember?) and of course, a girl (team-mate Jill, the prettiest rocket scientist at M.I.T., played by a wooden Kate Bosworth) make him lose track of what’s really important. Poor Ben’s not the first sucker to be seduced by a get rich quick scheme but his descent into cockiness and greed seems a little sudden. 21 is loosely based on a true story but I’m betting the actual tale was more interesting than this competent but cliché-ridden film. There’s a director’s commentary in which it becomes clear that Luketic (Legally Blonde) thinks he’s telling a unique tale. It’s just too bad the way he tells it is so unremarkable. Far more interesting than the naïve baby grifters is Spacey’s character, the slimy ex-con/prof who can’t do it himself anymore so he trains a doe-eyed crew of puppets to pull his scams for him. Lawrence Fishburne is great as the mean casino security guy whose shady past and connections to Spacey are subtly alluded to throughout. It would have been nice to see a longer card counting training montage because honestly, three minutes of flash cards isn’t enough to get the concept across to someone who isn’t, well, a rocket scientist. The most interesting featurette on the DVD is "Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal,” in which the actors attempt to explain some of this confusion, but one gets the feeling they don’t quite know either. "Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life” is in contrast, just a long ad for the glamorous "stuff” the movie is decked out in.  (Sony)