I love blackjack. It’s exciting, it has the smallest house percentage advantage of the casino games, and if I were better at it I’d enjoy it even more. The new film “21” is all about some very bright kids from MIT who, under the guidance of a physics professor named Rosa, played by Kevin Spacey, learn to count numbers, waiting for a run of high cards and betting big on them. They then take the casinos in Las Vegas for a great deal of money. It’s loosely based on a book by Ben Mezrich called “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions.” I know what they do and it’s not illegal, but if the casinos catch you at it they’ll bar you from playing there ever again. In any case, the system works, sort of, although with the casinos using a sleeve of four decks at a time the percentage tilts only slightly to the players.
Anyway, young Ben Campbell, played by the British Jim Sturgess, who was Jude in “Across the Universe,” adopts a kind-of Boston accent here as a poor MIT kid wanting to go to Harvard Medical School but not having the $300,000 to do it. If you’re thinking “Good Will Hunting” you won’t be wrong. He even has a mother who wants to give him her life savings. But then MIT isn’t cheap either; maybe he got a free ride there; it’s something the movie skips over. But one thing about him is he’s very very quick with numbers, and Professor Rosa recruits him into the team. Off they go to Las Vegas and come back with lots and lots of dough. In fact they do this every weekend, and of course, since this movie hasn’t got an original bone in its body, Jim forgets his own true friends as he gets richer and richer.
Well, you’re probably ahead of me here, but early in the film we’ve seen Laurence Fishburne, as a casino security consultant, deal with another man who counts cards; it’s very bloody and you know it’s only a matter of time until he catches up with the MIT gang.
There is a subplot of a romance of sorts between Sturgess and Kate Bosworth, who’s also in the gang, supposedly falling in love, but there’s really no chemistry between the two actors; we just wait for the rest of the plot to play out. “21” isn’t really a bad film; in fact if you read the script instead of seeing the movie, you’d have a better time because you could imagine how the scam went, rather than having to wait it all out on the screen. On the other hand, if you like to be reminded of how exciting blackjack can be, you’ll appreciate this film.