I was fortunate to review “21” a few days before it hit theaters and thoroughly enjoyed it. In reviewing the DVD there’s still something so enjoyable about the movie and the special DVD features don’t fail to disappoint.
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a brilliant MIT student attempting to get into Harvard Medical School. Without a paid scholarship that he’s attempting to get he won’t be able to afford the prestigious school’s tuition. That all takes a turn when he finds out what his professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) does with his students outside of class: teach them a way to count cards in blackjack games. Mickey ends up recruiting Ben and their weekly trips to Las Vegas allow the young man to collect the money he needs to Harvard, until he becomes blinded by the glitz and the life and has to stay one step ahead of a loss prevention expert (Laurence Fishburne) who wants to take down their operation.
“21” is a fun movie that takes you on a ride from start to finish. There are laughs, drama and action with the beautiful background of Las Vegas to keep you engaged. The story is very much in the vein of “The Color of Money” and many times young actor Jim Sturgess comes off like Tom Cruise. Never having been to Vegas myself this movie takes full advantage of the setting, never failing to highlight the nightlife, strip and beautiful casinos. If this movie doesn’t convince you to visit Las Vegas then nothing will. The movie works so well due to the ensemble cast and the chemistry they exude. This isn’t just filled with MTV up-and-comers but real young stars who carry the material well and work brilliantly with the more experienced stars. I’ve been a huge fan of Jim Sturgess since his work in “Across the Universe” and he’s continuing his streak playing expertly off Kevin Spacey. When the two are on screen together it’s electrifying, once again like Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. Spacey isn’t in the film much but when he is he never fails to give the movie a boost. Fishburne also doesn’t have much screen time but he’s a great villain but Spacey blows him out of the water. The other young stars like Kate Bosworth and Aaron Yoo all have moments to shine and I would have enjoyed a bit more with them but its truly Sturgess and Spacey’s film.
The movie does tend to fall into formulaic material towards the end. You know that Ben will become a bit of a jerk and lose everything only to find himself in the process. The ending is a bit less Hollywood than I expected but I figured out every step this movie was planning to make. I’ve also read the novel “Bringing Down the House” and was a bit irritated at some of the massive changes this movie makes in order for it to be more teen-orientated but if you’ve never read the novel this won’t bug you. I also thought the movie could have ended about 20 minutes earlier. It’s not that the movie as a whole isn’t good but there was a point where I thought they could have ended this and made it more satisfying.
The DVD features on this are small but very interesting in showing a deeper layer to this story and the making of this movie. The director commentary featuring director Robert Luketic with Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca was fun to listen to. I’m usually not one who enjoys commentaries during a movie but these guys aren’t pretentious in the slightest. They spend a lot of time talking about the challenges of making this movie and how a rather small-time director ended up making this massive film in Las Vegas. They talk about everything to do with this movie like casting and set design and I was really fascinated by the whole thing. Next is a featurette called “The Advantage Player” which details the actual strategy and act of counting cards. The movie itself doesn’t really explain how the players count the cards so this was really an interesting look at card counting and the history of blackjack. If you’re into gambling or want to know how this system works definitely watch this. After that is “Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal” which is a behind-the-scenes look at “21.” Where this differs from regular featurettes is that there are dramatizations of events in the making of this movie which I had never seen done and really think it elevated this to a more unique brand of bonus material. I also enjoyed the interviews with the cast because they all seem to be having fun with this movie and they’re all great speakers. Last is the featurette “Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life” which highlights the locations in Boston and Las Vegas. Again if this movie doesn’t inspire you to visit Sin City then I don’t know what will. This was probably my favorite because it really goes into the locations and I thought everything was beautiful.
Definitely rent “21” the movie itself gets a 4/5 and the DVD gets a good rating of 3.5/5.