WHEN MATH GEEKS COUNT MONEY
published March 28, 2008
Now playing nationwide
There is something of the underdog in 21, a fact-inspired parable that sees five math
whiz MIT students take Las Vegas for millions. Based on the book Bringing Down the House, the
players are Robin Hood and the casinos are the sheriff. The film is a bit different from that of the book with parallels to the American
dream, whereby a talented black jack player can arrive in Vegas, invent a new identity, and if they know how to play the game, well then,
the sky’s the limit.
MIT math professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) discreetly recruits his most gifted students in order to prime them to count cards.
Each weekend he accompanies his team of five to Las Vegas where they employ a system of hand signals and speaking in code. ‘Counting’
cards, they bet big and make it look easy. The newest recruit is Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a guy who has trudged through life always
playing by the rules. He agrees to join the team as a means to an end, for only as long as it takes him to earn his tuition for Harvard
medical. Even his professor Mickey advises him to get out while he’s on top. But will the allure of riches prove too seductive to pass up?
On weekends they’re high rollers. During the week they’re your ordinary MIT seniors, going to class and in no time at all becoming too cool
for their best friends.
The other teammates: Jill (Kate Bosworth), Fisher (Jacob Pitts), Choi (Aaron Yoo), and Kianna (Liza Lapira), are all quite
unaffected by their extracurricular exploits in Vegas. Ben, on the other hand, careful not to make waves with his mates, is doing his best
to morally validate his new glory in this gray area that defies categorization. For instance, when the team has fun, Mickey furiously
reminds them he is not their friend - it’s only a business. Mickey reminds them they are not stealing, but rather counting cards. While
counting is not illegal, they are quickly making enemies with Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne), a most unsympathetic casino
Director Robert Luketic does a commendable job at achieving great performances from this ensemble cast. When dealing with
characters of which money is the prime motive for most of their actions, the film can easily fall prey to harsh criticism. The only thing
of genuine substance to fall back on then is the caliber of acting. Although Spacey is great in 21, we don’t get anything all that innovative from him, except for the fact that he is also one of the
producers. The highlights are Sturgess and Bosworth who prove that when the stakes are high, it’s a game of all or nothing.
chadmenville @ stageandcinema.com