Gam­blers anony­mous

Against the odds, 21 is a rou­tine telling of a fas­ci­nat­ing true story, writes Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

21 Di­rected by Robert Luketic. Star­ring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bos­worth, Lau­rence Fish­burne, Ja­cob Pitts, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira 12A cert, gen re­lease, 123 min

THIS hy­brid of Good Will Hunt­ing and Ocean’s Eleven stars Jim Sturgess as a shy, bright Bos­ton stu­dent tempted by the lure of lu­cre to ap­ply his math­e­mat­i­cal skills at the black­jack ta­bles of Las Ve­gas.

In his se­nior year at Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Sturgess’s Ben Camp­bell dou­bles as a menswear sales­man as he vainly strug­gles to raise the six-fig­ure sum that would put him through Har­vard Med­i­cal School. En­ter Mephistophe­lean maths lec­turer Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) who gives private late-night classes in gam­bling tech­niques to se­lected stu­dents. Im­pressed by Ben’s re­sponse to a mul­ti­ple choice ques­tion, and by the young man’s op­tion for logic over emo­tion, Micky coaxes Ben to join the team.

Micky’s plan in­volves coach­ing his team in count­ing cards and us­ing a sign lan­guage of their own, a code as­so­ci­at­ing key words and num­bers, and a range of dis­guises. Ini­tially re­luc­tant, Ben is swayed by the over­tures of Jill (Kate Bos­worth), a stu­dent he first ob­serves bathed in golden light while she works out at the col­lege gym.

It’s ap­pro­pri­ate that MGMT’s in­fec­tiously catchy Time to Pre­tend plays over the movie’s open­ing cred­its and, this be­ing a moral­ity tale, that The Rolling Stones song You Can’t Al­ways Get What You Want runs over the clos­ing cred­its.

The set-up is in­trigu­ing, rem­i­nis­cent of the en­ter­tain­ing BBC TV se­ries Hus­tle. It is based on Ben Mezrich’s 2002 non-fiction best­seller, Bring­ing Down the House, which car­ried the self-ex­plana­tory sub­ti­tle, The Inside Story of Six MIT Stu­dents Who Took Ve­gas for Mil­lions.

How­ever, 21’s ex­e­cu­tion and res­o­lu­tion sug­gest that the book has been di­luted to a sim­plis­tic treat­ment in its jour­ney to the screen, and it now fol­lows the familiar tra­jec­tory of a shy novice who be­comes mas­ter of his game, but with sen­ti­men­talised, moral­is­ing con­se­quences.

The movie’s Aus­tralian di­rec­tor Robert Luketic, whose spe­cial­ity is froth (Mon­ster-in-Law, Legally Blonde), seems in awe of Las Ve­gas in all its gar­ish­ness as the cam­era swoops and swoons over the city. Luketic ought to have paid more at­ten­tion to his cast, in which only Sturgess, the en­gag­ing English ac­tor who emerged in Across the Uni­verse, is im­pres­sive.

Spacey, who co-pro­duced the film and curls his lips in a per­ma­nent smirk, and Lau­rence Fish­burne as a casino heavy, pro­ceed res­o­lutely on auto-pilot.

Card shark: a be­wigged Kate Bos­worth in


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