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:: 21

The latest flick about a team of young, good-looking misfits cheating Las Vegas’ casinos of their millions is not Ocean’s Fourteen, but 21. It is titled 21 because this movie focuses on an old gambling favourite: blackjack.

The film follows the story of Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a M.I.T University student who has, coincidentally, just turned 21 and has high hopes to attend Harvard medical school. Problem number one: this ambitious, good looking, shy genius, from a single-parent family, has admirable intentions of becoming a doctor but the evil green dollar stands in the way of him fulfilling this childhood dream. The Harvard elite inform him he has a strong chance of winning a $300,000 scholarship, but with tough competition, he must “dazzle” them with an essay about his life experience to succeed.

As Ben’s life experiences are confined to maths, two geeky best friends and a science competition, his chances of winning don’t look great, but as fate would have it, opportunity knocks in the form of Ben’s advanced math tutor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). Impressing Micky with his knowledge, Ben is approached to partake in a special kind of extra-curricular activity, joining a hand-picked team of brains working on one thing: beating the dealers at Blackjack to bask in a life of riches and luxury.

Ben, ruled by maths and morals, turns down the offer - the seedy world of money, cheating and gambling are out of his depth. But the offer becomes more lucrative when campus hottie and science whiz Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) seduces Ben into the heady world of Vegas, where you can become anyone you want to be.

For a recycled plotline about cheating Vegas at their own racket, one expects to see a fresh take on an old story, especially considering this movie was loosely based on the non-fiction book “ Bringing Down The House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T Students Who Took Vegas For Millions”, written by Ben Mezrich.

Disappointingly, Australian director Robert Luketic (of Legally Blonde fame) relies on pre-established film techniques and references to other films, making the already recycled plot even more generic. Occurring regularly throughout the film are montage sequences used to illustrate the fast-paced, high-rolling lifestyle of Vegas. The champagne sipping, money-throwing, limo driving sequences seem to cater more for a midday movie audience- they are repeated several times in the film to establish this hedonistic, luxurious lifestyle; yet it would have been far more effective to completely avoid the clichéd close-ups of Vegas’s flashing lights, card shuffling and bottle popping. Close-ups of poker chips being collected, cards being shuffled and the Vegas crowd rushing around Ben while he remains still are repeated far too often, making the film blend in with the myriad of other casino heist films, rather than making it stand out.

Jim Sturgess as Ben Campbell is consistent in his role, though is far from dazzling. Kevin Spacey is spot-on as Rosa, yet seems to play the role with too much ease at times. It is as if he has been shifting into acting auto-pilot - though in saying this, he is the standout performance in the movie, nailing the seedy, greedy mastermind.

Delving into the credibility of the book this movie is based on, uncovers disturbing revelations from the actual people involved. The real Ben (Jeff Ma, who has a cameo in the film) and Ben Kaplan (the real Rosa) have come out on record admitting that the events described in the book are so exaggerated that they may as well be untrue. If the so-called non-fiction book is basically a lie, it is definitely reflected in the movie, where the audience is asked to believe that a handful of young adults could use simple hand gestures and transparent disguises to cheat the system and get rich.

The film is longer than two hours (despite all its montages) and it is difficult to sit through its entirety. The character of Ben is difficult to sympathise with: his predicament quickly sees him go from a shy, penniless geek to a rich, arrogant “player”, then back again to an ego-wounded goody-two-shoes; neither of which we can really connect with.

This screenplay had the advantage of being based on actual events, which should have allowed it an authenticity and uniqueness to stand out in a long history of films about cheating Vegas. Unfortunately, these unique elements have been exaggerated to Hollywood standards, making the film tired and recycled.