21 (Robert Luketic). 122 minutes. Opens Friday (March 28). Rating: NN
Bearing almost no resemblance to the story told in Ben Mezrich’s book about the MIT students who made millions scamming Las Vegas’s blackjack tables, 21 is a big, flashy and deliriously stupid movie about smart people – or at least people we’re repeatedly told are really, really smart. Somehow, it’s hard to take the movie’s word for that, particularly once it starts confusing “moving fast” with “being clever.”
Still, Kevin Spacey – playing an MIT professor who enlists his top students in the aforementioned scheme – has a grand old time grinding his way through the scenery. Of course, when you’re one of the movie’s producers, it’s a lot easier to make sure you get all the best lines and all the right angles. Look carefully and you’ll catch him applauding himself at the end of an early speech.
The thing is, Spacey’s just a supporting player here. The nominal hero is bland working-class kid Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess, from Across The Universe), a math whiz whose facility with “variables” – sorry, mathletes, that’s as complex as this film is willing to get – lands him a prime spot on the team.
Ben’s story follows the same clichéd rags-to-riches-to-excess-to-sorrow arc that every other movie about gambling fever has since the dawn of time… except for the part where the film gets so seduced by neon and glitz that it abandons all morality for a convoluted climax that finds everyone screwing over everyone else for a big bag of loot. The director, Robert Luketic, made Legally Blonde and Monster-In-Law. This does not come as a surprise.