widescreen – 21 beats the odds


Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Its more than hungering for a simple meal that drives a group of MIT students to Vegas every weekend; its those four simple words that theyre longing to hear. When the blackjack dealer calls this out, its jackpot time.

Named for the target number in blackjack, the new movie 21 is a combination of Good Will Hunting and Casino (with a chase scene at the end where you expect the nuns from Sister Act to show up).

Its not quite as good as either of the aforementioned hits, but it still deserves to be in the same league. Director Robert Luketic, who brought us the confectionery films Legally Blonde and Monster- in-Law, takes a more dramatic turn with 21, which is based on the true story of MIT brains vs. Vegas brawn.

For Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), life is pretty easy intellectually, at least. He has the mind of a genius and the bank account of a pauper.  Unless he can quickly make some extra cash, his job selling mens clothing for $8 an hour isnt going to pay for the bill attached to his Harvard Medical School acceptance letter.

Hope comes in the form of a beautiful woman, Jill (Kate Bosworth), who convinces Ben to join the elusive and ultra-exclusive group of students who count cards every weekend in Vegas, turning blackjack tables into virtual ATM machines. Its the perfect scam and one that inevitably will go bankrupt. 
Ben is the quintessential nice guy: Hes smart, nice to his mother, clean-cut, maybe a little bland, but not someone whos going to rock the boat. Hes joined by a cast of quirky teammates, including Jill, snobby Fisher (Jacob Pitts), kleptomaniac Choi (Aaron Yoo) and comic relief Kianna (Liza Lapira).

The two shining stars of the cast are Kevin Spacey as Mickey Rosa and Laurence Fishburne as a loss prevention specialist whos about to be replaced by technology.

Even though the start, middle and finish of 21 are as predictable as 52-card pickup, the movie does not disappoint. The simplicity of the kids plan is what makes it so easy for their Mensa minds to pull off; the simplicity of the film is what makes it so easy to sit back and enjoy.

Fueled by quick shots during blackjack hands, a driving soundtrack to keep the tempo up, and the occasional strip club scene, 21 moves at a good but not great pace. Perhaps its knowing where youre going to end that makes you ready for the bad guys to go bust.