21 (2008)

Genre(s): Drama / Thriller
Sony || PG13 - 123 minutes - $28.96 || July 22, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-07-27


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Robert Luketic
Writer(s): Ben Mezrich (book); Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb (screenplay)
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Laurence Fishburne


Theatrical Release Date: March 28, 2008


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Feature Commentary
  • 21: The Advantage Player
  • Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal
  • Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.40)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Inspired by a true story about a group of M.I.T. students and their professor, the film is loosely based on a novel called, “Bringing Down the House”. 21 stars Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as Ben Campbell, a genius attending M.I.T. with aspirations of going on to Harvard Medical School. The obvious problem is, without a full ride scholarship, there’s no way he’ll be able to afford the $300,000 tuition. One day while in some smarty-pants advanced class he catches the attention of Professor Micky Rosa (Spacey). Soon enough Rosa recruits him into a group of fellow students who fly to Las Vegas on the weekends and make a stack load of cash by counting cards in a game of blackjack.

The film goes into detail about its done and the mathematic behind it, so I won’t bore you here with it, but it make sense (certain cards are worth +1, 0, -1 and when you get up to around +9 or so, the table is considered prime to make a killing). The other members of Rosa’s team include: Jill (Bosworth; Superman Returns), Choi (Yoo; Disturbia), Kianna (Lapira; TV’s “NCIS”) and Fisher (Pitts; EuroTrip). Each one has their role. A couple are spotters, playing at the tables counting and waiting to signal in the big players, which in this case are Fisher and Ben who come and make massive bets knowing the odds of winning are great.

But, there are eyes in the skies at the casinos. Up above, Cole Williams (Fishburne; Mission: Impossible 3) monitors the security cameras, checking for cheaters. His job is quickly getting replaced with facial recognition software, but he believes in the old tradition of gut feelings. He’s old school Las Vegas where cheaters, even legal ones like those who count cards, are psychically dealt with. You can guess the rest...

21, for the first two-thirds, plods along nicely enough with your typical clichés of how power and money can corrupt as Ben, who was only in it until $300k, can’t have enough. He blows off his true friends and a project they had been working on for a long time and butts heads with Professor Rosa. So, in that respect, it goes through the motions, but doesn’t really stand out. It’s the final 20-minutes where the film picks up the pace. It’s not to say the final act is unpredictable, but I was OK as it was still quite suspenseful and well played by all.

The film is helped by having a good cast at its core. Sturgess looks to be a rising star (it won’t be too long until some studio casts him in a superhero movie) as he shows some onscreen charisma. Kate Bosworth is... well... Kate Bosworth. She’s still very gorgeous and does her part and has some good chemistry with Sturgess, but the role is kind of underwritten and at the same, also thankless. Speaking of thankless, Aaron Yoo probably was the most underused of the cast. He was arguably one of the best things about Disturbia (in terms of comedy, at least) and he has some great off-beat comedic timing, but he’s only used sparingly here (the writers do make him a kleptomaniac, but that gets a little old).

Of course, Kevin Spacey, who served as producer under his production company, Trigger Street, and Laurence Fishburne are class all the way. The two bring much needed weight to the screen and makes the story on the whole better.

21 is a pretty good story that also makes it obvious it was only “inspired by true events”. If you own the Ocean’s Thirteen DVD, the story about the M.I.T. students is featured in one of the featurettes, so if you want to learn more, check it out.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

Sony is releasing 21 in three versions: 1-disc, 2-disc “Deluxe Edition” and the Blu-ray. Now, one would think that the “Deluxe Edition” would have more features, but it does not. In fact, the 2-disc version apparently only has a commentary while disc 2 has the features and the bonus digital copy while the 1-disc has everything on that disc except the digital copy (no loss to me).

In any case, outside of missing a red banner at the top on the case, the two releases are almost identical (sans digital copy) and both also have a semi-glossy slip cover. BTW, knowing Sony, I wouldn’t doubt a double dip is out of the question, especially since in the commentary they mention an alternate ending...

Feature Commentary – Director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) and producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca sit down for an informative commentary track. They have some fun and give thanks to people like Kevin Spacey and Brett Ratner (served as executive producer) and also tell how the project came to be. It would’ve been nice to get a separate track with the cast, though.

The DVD also comes packed with a few featurettes:

21: The Advantage Player (5:25) is just the cast standing in front of a green screen (with some images of Vegas or w/e behind them) telling you how counting cards works and how you can beat the system.

Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal (24:46) is a good ‘making-of’ featurette taking you on-location from Vegas to Boston. For a film this size, it’s fairly comprehensive giving you insights from the cast and crew on how the project came about (getting the book rights) and filming in a Vegas casino.

Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life (7:06) could’ve been a part of “Basic Strategy” as it just has more interviews with the cast and crew but mainly features the production designer and costume designer.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.40 OAR. Outside of the opening shot, a CGI’d close-up of a poker chip, the film looks fairly clean and free of pixilation. This isn’t going to be a picture that will wow you or anything, but it’s a good transfer.

Sony provides audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish. The audio is, overall, decent enough but given there’s a good amount of dialog, I didn’t go in expecting too much. The music does make use of the other speakers quite nicely and the dialog sounds clear through the center channel.



.::OVERALL::.

21 is a good film with a great third act, anything prior is certainly watchable but filled with the clichés about how money and power corrupts, a theme we’ve seen so many times before. That said, this cast makes those scenes go fast until we hit the finale, which, while predictable, was none-the-less suspenseful.