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Not the Brightest Bet: 21

Published March 27, 2008 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Columbia Pictures
21 Poster 21
I don't mind Hollywood taking dramatic license in a movie. As much as I'd like to see an all Asian cast take down the blackjack tables for their own personal gain, I understand that we're not progressive enough as a society for that. 21 will have to be about Caucasians with only a token Asian and Latina. No, what's annoying about 21 is how completely stupid it is.

Movie Review: 21


21 also begins with another flashback, because that's the only way people know how to tell stories anymore. You've got to see where they are and then learn how they got there. It's as arbitrary as all the other ones, and is hardly the biggest of the film's problems

On the plus side, at least there's a movie glorifying intellectuals. Interesting theories are made cinematic with showmanship and pop humor, though when they make references to Ferris Bueller and Swingers, it just feels desperate. They explain the rules of blackjack, but more importantly the counting system well enough that we can follow it the rest of the movie.

Other than that, this is a really stupid movie about such smart people. The story starts losing you right away. It's like "insert dream here" when the main character announces he wants to go to Harvard Medical School, which costs X amount of dollars so that's exactly what he'll have to earn.

The hero starts storing all his wads of cash in the ceiling of his dorm room. What was his plan, to bring Harvard a bag full of money? There's a scene where he's nervous about getting caught with money in the airport, and it actually tries to make you think that security is going to get him, when you've just seen him leave his bag so you know they're just reminding him to pick it up. He uses the same catch phrases while playing different aliases in different casinos, and that's not even how they catch him!


Everyone's character quirks are not cute at all. Don’t we have enough slobbery fat friends in romantic comedies? Do we really need them in math dramas too? And the klepto and the cocky A-hole and the seductive business type… Not only do you not believe them, you actually hate them.

They all state everyone's backstory and intentions, calling attention to the fact that they only exist to his certain points in the plot. Just in case you didn't notice that he's getting corrupted, they're sure to tell you.

It's a very PG-13 Vegas where parties consist only of a lot of dancing and strippers never seem to take their tops off. There's nothing wild enough that it looks like any fun. The wacky shots of card tables and sweeping cameras are too busy. Interestingly, the scene in the trailer where he adds all the numbers up in his head and they print the math on the screen is oddly textless in the film. The trailer made it more visual than the movie itself.

The film is way too long to be this banal and predictable. The ending is a pretty sure bet. You wouldn't even get even money predicting it. The real MIT guys probably made more selling their rights to Hollywood than they ever did playing blackjack, so good for them.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Columbia Pictures
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