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If there ever was a film that just sort of popped out of nowhere and made a big impression on you, 21 is that film. Having never even heard about the film a few months before its release, imagine my surprise when the final product turned out to be a well crafted, albeit somewhat clichéd thriller that left everyone in the audience smiling.

The story isn’t something you see everyday, but it isn’t going to win any Juno like writing awards either. Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a certified genius. He’s working at a men’s clothing store, going to MIT, and can do amazing things with numbers in his head. After making a big splash with one of his professors, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who just happens to run a blackjack card counting operation on the weekends. Where were these college professors when I was in school?


As the story progresses Ben eventually joins the team who jets off to Vegas with a system of relaying hot and cold tables to the big players in the group who then make tons of money. Ben wants to get into Harvard Medical School and is only aiming for a few hundred grand whereas everyone else just likes expensive things. There’s a subplot featuring Laurence Fishburne and Jack McGee as two security consultants being replaced by computer software, but their role in the film becomes pinnacle as the climax unfolds and the big reveal is unfurled.


While based on the best selling book “Bringing Down the House” (which shares its name with a rather unfortunate Steve Martin vehicle), 21 is full of the basic Hollywood clichés of friends fighting, jealously, love, betrayal, and revenge. How much is true and how much is liberalism with the source material all depends, but what it adds up to is an easy to follow, great story.

The strength of the movie revolves in the acting, with special commendation going out to Kevin Spacey who never ceases to amaze in the range of roles he can play perfectly. From a serial killer in Se7en, a troubled cop in L.A. Confidential, to the arrogant Micky here, the man has certainly earned his keep in Hollywood over the years. Sturgess also shows off his chops which makes you wonder why it took so long for him to hit it big in Hollywood. His resume is filled with UK TV shows, but nothing of note before his role here. His portrayal as Ben gives an added bit of authenticity to the role with Ben morphing from the character we see him as in the beginning to the mastermind of the operation at the end.


As a faithful adaptation of the book, only those who have read it will be able to determine how 21 compares to such high level conversions like Fight Club, and such abysmal ones like Jurassic Park. Even without the book backing it up, 21 is a great film, and while it’s a bit slow at times, anyone who is moderately interested in the mystic world of Las Vegas gambling, heist films, or likes to see the geek win a few rounds, this flick is for you.