Title: Robert Luketic’s ’21’ is a Bust
February 23, 2015
21 premiered in 2008 starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, and Kevin Spacey. The film follows a group of six MIT students, brought together by an MIT professor, Micky Rosa (Spacey). Rosa trains the six gifted students on how to become experts on counting cards, a skill they use to take some of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas for millions.
Told from the perspective of main character Ben Campbell (Sturgess), the narrative centers on the ups and downs the team has together and in their personal lives, all while they earn a fortune cheating at the tables.
The screenplay for the film was adapted from the 2003 best-selling book Bringing Down the House, which was written by Ben Mezrich. The book was marketed as a first-hand account from Mezrich on his experience in the MIT Blackjack Team, with Sturgess playing the role of Mezrich in the film. Although classified as non-fiction, the Boston Globe disputed its accuracy around the time of the film’s release. They claimed that certain details throughout the book (and subsequent movie) were false, or at least grossly fabricated.
Unfortunately, the film’s authenticity isn’t its only shortcoming.
Roger Ebert only gave the film one and half stars and even though I had high hopes for this movie, I have to agree with the consensus of his review. Ebert claimed that the movie was overall pretty boring, with a generic storyline and emotionless characters. He called it “nearly as much fun as watching an insurance professional compute actuarial tables.“
It wasn’t just the movie’s execution, it was their lack of fact-checking. I wish I could say that a lot of the inaccuracies in the movie were created intentionally in order to create drama. However, not only did they fail to do so, but many of the mistakes didn’t pertain to the storyline or the excitement-factor in the slightest.
For example, during one particular scene, two of the girls argue about when it is appropriate to split a hand. Splitting, as InterCasino explains on their blackjack page, allows you the opportunity to double down (double your wager) during one deal. This provides you with the opportunity to create new hands using one of each card used in the split. During the film, one of the girls claimed that splitting eights when the dealer has tens or ace is a “sucker play.” Funny enough, it’s actually the correct move. It’s better to split the bet and try for higher cards than risk going over by hitting with 16 in your hand.
Recalling Ebert’s review, he called the film a good story with a plain execution, “no doubt with the aid of a Bob McKee screenwriting seminar and textbook.” Once again, I’m inclined to agree. The premise was strong, but it was carried out poorly. Overall, this one was a swing and a miss for me.