21 -- Possible Sleeper?

User avatar
Damien
Laureate
Posts: 6331
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: New York, New York
Contact:

Postby Damien » Mon Apr 07, 2008 1:58 am

I'm amazed at how well it's doing at the box office. When it comes to successful movies, I admit it, I know nuffin'.
"Y'know, that's one of the things I like about Mitt Romney. He's been consistent since he changed his mind." -- Christine O'Donnell

Sabin
Laureate
Posts: 7045
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Sun Apr 06, 2008 11:55 pm

When was the last time a gambling movie actually was a hit? The Cincinnati Kid? I don't know why this genre ever gets greenlighted.

Well, I'm glad they do because gambling movies are past even heist flicks on my list of undeniable predilections. The minute somebody greenlights 'California Split' as a series, is the minute I beat the shit out of my Tivo when it fails to record it once.

'21' isn't 'Lucky You' bad and it's not 'Rounders' cool so at the very least it's probably worth the price of admission even if it's not terribly good on any level. Bad dialogue, lousy cinematography (Russell Carpenter's Oscar for 'Titanic' was a fluke; check out his filmography. Yeesh.), an over-reliance on falling card montages, and phoned-in glorified cameos from Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey announce it as product rather than time well spent. On the other hand, I'll take five of these before the mindless entertainment of an adjacent genre any day. Not a good movie but can suffice as dumb entertainment I suppose.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6118
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Mar 27, 2008 2:24 pm

To prove I wasn't a liar, Variety's review. (They must have accidentally posted it early and pulled it back till now)

21
By JOE LEYDON

A flashy fictionalization of an extraordinary true-life story about college kids who counted cards to win big in Las Vegas, "21" is a better-than-even-money bet to be an important player in the spring B.O. tournament. Pic shrewdly shuffles together attractive young leads, cagey screen vets and a fantasy-fulfillment scenario in a slickly polished package that should appeal to anyone who's ever dreamed of beating the odds. Only the lack of some truly megawatt star power might hold the Sony release back from a massive, rather than just lucrative, payday.
Sporting a reasonably convincing Boston accent, Brit up-and-comer Jim Sturgess ("Across the Universe") makes a mostly winning impression as Ben Campbell, a brilliant, boyishly cute but awkwardly shy math-and-science whiz who wants to attend Harvard Medical School after completing his senior year at MIT. Trouble is, neither he nor his widowed mom (Helen Carey) can afford tuition.

So it doesn't take much convincing to lure Ben onto a clandestine team of fellow MIT brainiacs assembled by Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), a seductively snarky math professor and stats genius who presides over his college classes like a sardonic gameshow host. With a little help from sexy student Jill (Kate Bosworth), Mickey convinces Ben to join the high-stakes action while following the professor's near-infallible system for counting cards at blackjack tables during weekend jaunts to Las Vegas.

The gameplan calls for a designated "big player" -- either Ben or vet teammate Fisher (Jacob Pitts) -- to wait for a signal from a "spotter" making low-wager bets. When one of the spotters -- teammates Jill, Choi (Aaron Yoo) and Kianna (Liza Lapira) -- indicates the dealer is working with a "hot deck," the big player comes by and bets big. And keeps on betting, until the spotter signals him to vamoose.

Like a more conventional caper movie, "21" generates an impressive amount of suspense simply by meticulously explaining, and then deftly dramatizing, the nuts and bolts of an illicit enterprise. Spacey is darkly comical and icily authoritative as Mickey explains the rules of his game and repeatedly warns against getting too excited in the heat of the moment.

Mickey makes it perfectly clear to his players that, if they break his rules, they'll be brutally punished. But perhaps not as brutally as they might be treated by Cole Williams (an intimidating Laurence Fishburne), a badass casino "enforcer" who takes a hands-on approach to discouraging card counters.

Working from "Bringing Down the House," Ben Mezrich's bestselling account of the real-life MIT students who took Vegas for millions in the 1990s, director Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde," "Monster-in-Law") and scripters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb sporadically resort to predictable character developments, logic-stretching plot twists and full-bore melodramatics. It's never made clear how it's so easy for Mickey to impose his iron will on a player who displeases him in the third act, and Ben's evolution from buttoned-down nerd to "Viva Las Vegas" libertine, while amusing, is not entirely plausible in the way it's dramatized (or, to be more accurate, announced) here.

Sturgess does a first-rate job sustaining the aud's rooting interest in his character, even though there's conspicuously little heat to his scenes with the well-cast Bosworth. Spacey gives a performance that could be labeled "Honey-Baked" and sliced up for sandwiches -- which is precisely what makes him so much fun. Supporting players, including Josh Gad and Sam Golzari as Ben's uber-nerd best buddies, are aces.

The visual-effects team led by Gray Marshall employs all manner of camera techniques and CGI trickery to give many of the blackjack games the pizzazz of a state-of-the-art vidgame. (Cards and chips appear exhilaratingly surreal in massive closeups.) And that comes in very handy whenever Luketic wants to amp up the excitement during sequences where, really, people are doing nothing more dramatic than placing bets and playing cards.

Lenser Russell Carpenter enhances pic overall with stark contrasts between snowy Boston and neon-lit Vegas locations. Soundtrack abounds with aptly chosen pop tunes, although the closing credits are underscored by what may be the worst remix of a Rolling Stones song ("You Can't Always Get What You Want") ever heard in a major motion picture.

User avatar
OscarGuy
Site Admin
Posts: 12351
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 12:22 am
Location: Springfield, MO
Contact:

Postby OscarGuy » Wed Mar 26, 2008 12:16 pm

The only reason I would consider it is Jim Sturgess. However, Kevin Spacey has become one of those actors I hate to watch because each role is drenched in his own ego. Even when it fits the part, I can't seem to stand watching him.
Wesley Lovell
"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." - Benjamin Franklin

Bog
Assistant
Posts: 800
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:39 am
Location: United States

Postby Bog » Wed Mar 26, 2008 12:06 pm

FilmFan, are you going in blind? I read the book as well and thought it was really good and had the exact same thoughts about transforming it into the screen (I thought that I would give it a go...haha, didn't last too long), and I'm pretty sure the guys that brought us Monster-in-Law could do better anyway.

The first time I saw the preview I think I had a full body cringe, all the white people thrown into this film, what is their goal?...I guess I will check out your reviews on here, but $11 is about $111 more than I'd even think about spending

I would be so internally ecstatic if this brings in about $3 million by about Sunday

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6118
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Mar 26, 2008 12:03 pm

Well, it's been at least an element in some hit movies -- Casino Royale, The Sting, Rain Man (though it was easily the worst part of the latter). I guess the Oceans movies are seen as strictly heist movies, but the last one had some card-playing involved.



Edited By Mister Tee on 1206551016

User avatar
Damien
Laureate
Posts: 6331
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: New York, New York
Contact:

Postby Damien » Wed Mar 26, 2008 11:47 am

When was the last time a gambling movie actually was a hit? The Cincinnati Kid? I don't know why this genre ever gets greenlighted.
"Y'know, that's one of the things I like about Mitt Romney. He's been consistent since he changed his mind." -- Christine O'Donnell

FilmFan720
Tenured
Posts: 3384
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 3:57 pm
Location: Illinois

Postby FilmFan720 » Wed Mar 26, 2008 11:01 am

The book is a very fun read, and while I was reading I kept thinking what a fabulous film it could make. I just hope they capture the internal struggle, and the pull between home and money, that the book nicely captured. I have high hopes.
"Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good."
- Minor Myers, Jr.

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6118
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:50 am

I don't want to oversell this. The director doesn't inspire confidence. And the review below, from Screen Daily, suggests just a good time, not a meaningful effort. However...there was a review posted on Variety's site yesterday that said almost precisely the same thing (it has for some reason disappeared, but, trust me, I read it). And, given that no movie released so far in '08 has even faintly moved me to consider plunking down $11 to see something in a theatre (I had hopes for Stop-Loss, but, apart from the obligatory Travers rave, it seems to be disappointing critics), the idea of something at least enjoyable feels miraculous.



21
Mike Goodridge in Los Angeles
12 Mar 2008 11:48

Dir: Robert Luketic. US. 2008. 122 mins.

21 is a highly-fictionalised super-slick movie version of the non-fiction bestseller Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich which has just the right doses of MTV flash, pretty young stars and beat-the-system wish fulfillment to make it work at the box office as a healthy spring hit for Sony.

The film's true-story origins and engaging premise of uncool college nerds living large in the world's most bling-centric city will help bring older audiences to 21 as well as teens who will lap up the fantasy of making millions by doing nothing. Opening through Sony on March 28, it should be a sizeable spring domestic hit that could aspire to Ocean's 13 levels if not Ocean's 11.

The lack of marquee-name stars might lessen its impact in international markets and reviews will certainly be mixed, but the flamboyant marketing campaign and Vegas glitter could win over mainstream crowds looking for an entertaining drama with none of the gloom and doom of this year's Oscar crop.

Central to the success of the film is Jim Sturgess, the young English actor who has swiftly ascended to leading man status after Across The Universe last year. Sturgess, while clearly better looking than the average geek, has a likeable demeanour and vulnerability which work well in the lead role of Ben Campbell. 21 should establish him further as an in-demand twentysomething Hollywood actor.

Campbell is a shy student at Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) who has been accepted into Harvard Medical School. The catch is that he needs $300,000 to pay for the school fees and is counting on a scholarship for which he and many others are applying.

His mathematics professor, a stats genius called Micky Rosa (Spacey) notices him in class one day and invites him to join a secret group of the school's most gifted students who leave rainy Boston every weekend and head to Las Vegas. There, armed with fake identities and disguises, they play the blackjack tables, unobtrusively taking home hundreds of thousands of dollars by counting cards and employing a system of signals.

Ben is reluctant to leave his job in a clothing store or his nerdy friends with whom he is building a robot for a science competition, but, lured by the prospect of paying for Harvard and the attractive Jill Taylor (Bosworth) also on Rosa 's team, he succumbs and begins the weekend treks to Vegas.

Of course, the timid Ben soon falls prey to the seductions of Sin City, enjoying the big money, swanky hotel suites and privileges that a high roller can earn. And while casino enforcer Cole Williams (Fishburne) is on their tails – counting cards isn't illegal but Williams likes to violently discourage it – Ben's biggest enemy turns out to be Micky himself, a former card-counter who won't tolerate weakness in his students.

How much of 21 is actually true to the experiences of Jeff Ma, the real MIT student on whom Ben is based, is irrelevant. The answer is probably not much since Rosa is an amalgam of several people and Jill Taylor didn't exist. Director Robert Luketic and his producers have essentially just taken the story and – as movies have always done – Hollywoodised it.

Luketic races the drama along while brushing many of the essential details under the carpet – exactly which casinos are they in and why is Williams omnipresent, how could Micky Rosa's activities elude MIT's other staff, how exactly does the card-counting system work, what happens to Ben at the end of the film etc. But then Luketic, whose credits include Legally Blonde and Monster-In-Law, is not a detail-oriented director and his focus here on the pace and sex appeal of the piece essentially works to its advantage.

Spacey makes a nicely chilly villain and Bosworth a warm and glamorous leading lady, if an implausible maths genius.


Return to “2008”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest