Thursday, August 21, 2008

To discuss a movie review: '21'

I'm torn. '21,' the casino caper now out on DVD starring Kevin Spacey as a mastermind of a card-counting scam, is supposed to be sexy, stylish, silly fun.
And it is. It's all of those things. Kate Bosworth is sexy, even if I wished the entire movie she'd eat a cheeseburger. The setting in Las Vegas is stylish as always, and it makes me want to go there more than ever (Saved By The Bell's wedding movie being my first motivation). And it is silly in that there's some good comic relief from the main character's best friends, and you get swept up in the whole idea of running off to Vegas every weekend to play cards, win money and go to strip clubs (they spend A LOT of time in strip clubs, which seems odd since the team leader, Spacey, is a distinguished college professor).
For a full synopsis of the movie, go here. The brief plot summary is that Micky (Spacey) is a math teacher at Mass. Institute of Technology. He's got a top team of students who are great with numbers, and who he has trained to count cards when playing blackjack. Spacey gets a new student, Ben, (Jim Sturgess) who is great at this, he convinces Ben to join the team, Ben does so well he gets out of control, losing his old friends and all his money, Micky gets mad and screws Ben over, Ben gets revenge by being clever. Oh, and Laurence Fishburne punches people in the face. It's based on a true story (keep that in mind), after a book, "Bringing Down the House," that followed six MIT students who really did win big in Vegas counting cards.

But '21,' you have so many plot holes and unrealistic events and conclusions. Usually, I'd just mention them in paragraph form, but ‘21’ demands a list because of sheer numbers.

  1. MIT is in Massachusetts. East Coast. And yet, this group travels across the country to Vegas to play blackjack? They don't want to save money and time by going to Atlantic City casinos? Even Mohegan Sun in Connecticut? There's still money to be made there, wouldn't you think?
  2. Micky tells Ben he can "win more money than he can ever dream of." The next few weekends, Ben wins his share of about $100,000-$200,000, split five ways, with Micky getting half. That means Ben’s getting, what, $15-$20,000 at a time? I can dream of that. Actually, with sound investing, I can make that. That doesn’t sound out impossible, Micky. A billion dollars would be more than I can dream of. These guys are going to be physicists, surgeons and scientists. It's not like they're going to be poor.
  3. Ben is supposed to be a nerdy guy who enters science contests and is socially awkward. He can’t even talk to the campus hottie, Jill (Bosworth). But, for a campus full of MIT nerds, every one on the blackjack team is attractive and cool. And Ben automatically becomes attractive to Jill by being on the team. That seems a bit shallow and unrealistic that as soon as a nerd wins money playing cards, he’s a p.i.m.p. At least they didn’t use the classic movie tactic of having him take off his glasses and slick his hair to become cool. Ben’s also played by Jim Sturgess, who is British. So, when trying to cast the role of an all-American student who dreamed of going to Harvard, they cast a British guy who has to cover up his accent the whole movie.
  4. It’s made clear at first that Ben is bored and unsatisfied where his life is going. Except, you know, he’s at MIT and going to freakin Harvard Medical School and is brilliant and has good friends. So it’s only logical he hates his life.
  5. To lure an initially skeptical Ben onto the team, Jill tries to seduce him by wrapping a tie around his neck and talking like a dirty ho. Ben-- lonely, lonely Ben-- doesn’t try to take advantage of this opportunity by making Jill do him or at least send him illicit photos of herself on MySpace.
  6. At one point, after a few weekends of big winnings, Ben does a voice over of a montage showing everyone shopping like they are on “My Sweet 16.”* Ben’s shown buying dapper suits and whatnot. Ben’s also supposed to be saving up for Harvard, which costs $300,000. How can Ben spend money like all the other people who have been playing for a lot longer, and still be easily saving up for med school (which they say he does in just a couple months)?
  7. For no good reason, the team’s meeting point in Vegas is a strip club.
  8. The team goes to Vegas every weekend. You'd think security would catch on, considering all they change is wigs and their fake names.
  9. Micky annoints Ben as the new go-to player, openly saying the other team members aren’t smart enough. Only one of the players gets upset with this. The other three aren’t offended. Not even Jill.
  10. After initially fending off Ben’s advances, Jill gives in (gets drunk) and finally kisses Ben, which is supposed to be a big romantic moment. Except, it’s in the strip club. That might work with Jesse Spano in "Showgirls," (second Saved By the Bell reference!) but not here.
  11. When Ben has a bad week and loses his nerdy friends, he screws up at the casino and loses $200,000. Micky is inexplicably furious. He’s got to have millions by now, what’s $200k? Couldn’t he win that back in one weekend? But as soon as Ben asks for Micky’s forgiveness— the same man who ruins Ben’s future and steals his money to get revenge— Micky takes him back.
  12. Laurence Fishburne, a casino security director, gets a keen interest in watching Ben to see if he’s counting cards. Even though he and everyone else at the casino agree Ben winning isn’t a big deal, Fishburne’s character gets enraged every time Ben comes in and makes it his life goal to destroy him. No reason, really.
Beside that, though, good movie.**

* Did you see that new MTV show that sends brats from My Sweet 16 to remote locations around the world, so they get a taste of how the other side lives? It's genius.
** At least worth renting. You're not watching it for plot, anyway.


Anonymous said...

Yea, I was super psyched for this movie and then incredibly let down. It had the potential to be a great gambling scam film, but they just fucked it up. I wasn't impressed. I expected more, especially out of Spacey. Solid review, though.

alexis said...

I finally learned what MIT stood for!! YES!

Kelli said...

I saw it...total snooze fest! Although next time I am in a doorm I am going to look in the ceiling for loads of cash money.

bianca said...

1) Saved By the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas. Classic. I particularly enjoy the scene where Zack, Screech, and Slater dress up as Vegas showgirls and think no one will notice.

2) I'm so freaking excited about that Super Sweet 16 show it's not even funny. Although I was thinking, when these kids say "omg, I can't believe I'm here, it sucks", how do the people who actually live there feel? Are they offended? Do they see this as a learning experience for these kids? I'm particularly excited about the girl who cried on her episode when she didn't get her car on her actual birthday. The drama is going to be fabulous.

Jozet at Halushki said...

Hey! It was great meeting you tonight!

Next time try to keep your shirt on and don't dance on the tables. Dude. Seriously.

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