“21”, based on the bestseller “Bringing Down The House” by Ben Mezrich, and directed by Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”) is a film with a promising premise and an interesting cast. So why is it so damned boring?
The number one reason has got to be Jim Sturgess. I have seen few people on the silver screen who have less charisma, less presence than this completely ordinary looking actor. Sure, he fits the bill as your average MIT student. But he never convinces you he is a high roller when he is playing the tables in Vegas. Initially, Ben greets Vegas with a loopy grin, and wide eyes reflecting dollar signs and neon. He has never been to Vegas and the whole thing becomes a heady blend and is almost more than he can handle. They check into the Hard Rock and get into their disguises.
So, this is another problem. The disguises don’t fool anyone except for the people working in the casinos. And since Laurence Fishburne plays the owner of a security company, who has contracts with the casinos to help them catch cheaters, these same disguises shouldn't fool Fishburne. But they do. At least initially. But a new software program is threatening his company’s livelihood. So, he stands in the security rooms of Planet Hollywood and Red Rock, anxiously waiting for something to happen, to prove humans are more capable than a computer program. He instantly spots Ben and the team, and even spots their hand signals. But they are just counting cards and counting cards isn’t illegal.
Hold on a minute! If it isn’t illegal, why does Fishburne’s character even care if Ben and his team are counting cards? Naturally, they are winning money. But if it isn’t illegal, as Rosa says, then what can they do? For that matter, if it isn’t illegal, why doesn’t Rosa play, instead of standing in the background, pulling the puppet strings of this scheme? Spacey’s Rosa is supposed to be a nice guy who lures the kids into his web and when things turn nasty, he becomes a real pain in the butt. When Ben wants out of the scheme, Rosa does some pretty nasty things and threatens Ben’s future. Thankfully, when the story requires Rosa to become an ass, most of his dirty work is done in the background. I half expected some shots of the ‘Svengali’-like character wringing his hands in triumph, laughing wickedly. The film isn’t that far off from falling into that trap.
Naturally, when the students start to visit Vegas on a regular basis, and start to win money, this changes them. They become cocky, arrogant and begin to take chances Rosa doesn’t want them to take. And Ben and Jill are suddenly a couple. Maybe she is drawn to his ability t make large sums of money illegally. Oh, wait. Forgot. Counting cards isn’t illegal. So why do they fall in love? One minute she is cool, yet friendly to him. The next, she is inviting him up to her comped suite. Unfortunately, this is another example of a role Bosworth has played where she doesn’t really add anything to the role, any actress could play the same roll and do an equal, if not better job. Kate Beckinsale, the great modern vacuum of the silver screen, could do a better job. I don’t know if Bosworth has a memorable role in her. But Beckinsale just turned in a memorable performance in “Snow Angels”. Maybe Bosworth has one in her as well.
Frankly, there is one person responsible for this mess of a film. The director, Robert Luketic whose first film was “Legally Blonde”, an amusing, but uneven film which helped catapult Reese Witherspoon into the A circle of Hollywood. Since then, he has made “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton”, a marginally better film, and “Monster-In-Law” starring Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez. That’s two in a row Mr. Luketic. Three strikes and you’re out.
Perhaps it is the subject matter. I used to think any film set in Vegas would have to be, at the least, interesting, but with “Lucky You” and “21”, I am beginning to doubt this theorem. It seems like all of the best films about Vegas are films that don’t take themselves to seriously. Is it possible to take Vegas seriously? I mean there are slot machines in the baggage claim area at the airport. Each new casino is trying to replicate a time or place long gone so people can sit, smoke, and drink while they lose money. Vegas is a fantasyland and maybe nobody wants to see a story about the ‘real’ people who live and visit there.
But that isn’t really an excuse that would cover the entire problem. Why is the film boring? The lead actor’s lack of charisma aside, Vegas is such a dynamic, bustling place, it would seem like a natural to at least hold our attention while we are slogging through the rest of the film. But nothing about the film is believable. And because of that, it is difficult to care about anyone or anything involved in the film.
And because of that, we are simply left with craps.