21 Robert Luketic

21 Robert Luketic
"We’re not gambling," quips a haughty MIT math professor to his newest student and soon to be crime accessory. As if locked in a spell, that baby-faced British kid from Across the Universe listens intently to his teacher, his eyes wider than a dead deer’s, his expression slightly slow, as if acting with Kevin Spacey gives just cause to fawn moronically. "We’re counting." And with that, Mr. Spacey gives us a perfect summation of Robert Luketic’s 21: don’t expect the high stakes and thrills to pay off here, folks; you’ll just be counting the cliches.

First, you have the whiny rise-and-fall story. Jim Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a natural mathlete with dreams of getting into Harvard’s med program. Preventing this is a lack of funds. Three-hundred-thousand, to be exact. Ben’s determined to solve this conundrum but as his options diminish, he becomes woefully desperate. Enter wily and wise math professor Micky Rosa (Spacey), who after taking notice to Ben’s lightning quick numbers skills in class, offers our poor hero a simple and painless solution to his current state of destitution: card counting in Las Vegas.

After a cheesy five-minute montage accompanied by dreadful pop music and a poorly explained card counting system, Ben gives in and joins the rest of Rosa’s student gang in raping various Las Vegas Blackjack tables of their money (but only on weekends, of course). That was act one of this fairytale. The second and third are like a bastardized mash-up of many classic Vegas films, such as Ocean’s Eleven (cheaters get pummelled in casino backrooms by an old fashion loss prevention officer, a very scary, multi-ringed Laurence Fishburne) and Casino (don’t trust anyone when you’re on top because in the end they just want your money).

Predictably, as Ben sinks into his newfound hubris, bad things start to happen and a harsh lesson on morality comes as a result. The acting would’ve been half-decent if Luketic hadn’t trapped his budding cast in such flat roles. Case and point is Spacey, who rarely bombs his appearances but hardly kills this one. He’s a shadowy mentor with a secret agenda; I think we’ve seen him do this many times before. The same goes for Kate Bosworth, who supplies plenty of eye candy, humdrum lines and lots of scanty disguises that manage to confuse every security guard in Las Vegas.

If you’d like a smartly written, more believable version of this true story read Ben Mezrich’s 2002 bestseller Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Otherwise, here’s what 21 will deal you: a cold deck of ham-handed gambler’s porn. (Sony)