Watching people try to take Vegas for millions at the movies just never gets old. And while 21 may not be a major addition, it’s a
fun, mostly winning flick that gives the Sin City caper genre a fresh twist: With a young, cute cast, flashier-than-a-Vegas-show camera work
and a hip soundtrack, it’s no mystery who the target audience is.
Based on Ben Mezrich’s book Bringing Down the House, in which he tells the story of how he and five other M.I.T.
students made millions counting cards at Vegas blackjack tables, the movie focuses on Ben (Across the Universe’s Jim Sturgess), who has been accepted to Harvard’s medical school but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. His widow mom doesn’t have
the cash either, so when a math teacher (Kevin Spacey, having the time of his life) invites him to join a team of students hitting up Vegas, it doesn’t take long to convince Ben. Especially because pretty co-ed Jill (the well-cast Kate Bosworth) is in the mix.
Sturgess is mostly convincing as a cute but awkward Tobey Maguire-type who goes from robot-building geek to Gucci-suit wearing card shark. Though the movie makes does a fair job of showing (actually, telling) you the growing disconnect between Ben’s life in Boston and the team’s wild times in Vegas (shopping sprees, strip clubs, high-roller suites), it spends most of its time at the tables, where the team is split between “spotters,” who bet the table minimum and signal “big players” like Ben when a table is hot. Ben then comes in, bets big by counting cards and makes piles of cash—until the team gets busted by a casino enforcer (Laurence Fishbourne) and all inevitably comes crashing down.
The same high-life fantasy that draws millions of people to the Strip every year draws you in during the movie, though back in Boston are two of the best reasons to watch this movie: Ben’s brainiac friends (Josh Gad and Sam Golzari), who look and sound like they were digitally transferred from a Judd Apatow comedy, and provide zippy, geeky repartee in some of the movie’s best scenes.