For years we’ve heard the phrase, “crime doesn’t pay.” In the new film, “21,” not only does it pay, but damn well as long as you know when to say when.
Based on a true-story, MIT student, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is struggling along trying to earn enough money to fulfill his childhood dream of attending Harvard University’s Medical school. Working for $8 an hour at a clothing store, he spends most days studying and hanging out with his two childhood nerdy friends. But after impressing his college professor in class, he gets the opportunity to join a special “math club,” where he learns to master the game of blackjack, counting cards and making several thousand dollars at Las Vegas casinos.
The brainchild of Professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), the group of students attend classes during the week but peruse various casinos in Vegas on the weekend armed with an elaborate system and language that helps the group grow rich – quickly. While intially Campbell is hesitant, of course when he is approached by campus hottie and fellow “club” member, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Campbell changes his tune. Armed with superior memory and knowledge, he is described by his mentor Mickey of possessing a “Pentium chip” as a brain.
In no time, their enterprise is successful, but looming and watching from the sky is tough veteran Vegas pit boss, Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) who catches and dispenses “special” punishment for those caught cheating in his hotels. Suddenly, he has his eyes on young Mr. Campbell, who clearly is too good for his own good.
Borrowing heavily from “Risky Business,” “The Girl Next Door” and “The Cooler,” the film serves as cautionary tale that there is no such thing as a sure thing. Where Tom Cruise got in over his head and became a glorified “flesh peddler” in “Risky,” Campbell also follows suit when he must extract himself from a sticky situation to follow his dream and get his life back.
Surprisingly, the story flows effortlessly simply because of a solid script and strong foundation supplied by the two Oscar-nominated actors Fishburne and Spacey. After some brief time away from the big screen, the two powerfully opposing forces paint both extremes for the highly-impressionable college students.
While not a great film, “21” is a welcome addition to the canon of films dealing with cards and gambling. Not even “The Cooler” can stop Campbell’s blackjack hustle.”