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21

21

Rated PG-13, 123 min. Directed by Robert Luketic. Starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Liza Lapira, Josh Gad, Aaron Yoo, Sam Golzari, Jacob Pitts, Jack McGee.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 28, 2008

One might think that characters who have the mental quickness to count cards and take the Vegas blackjack tables for tens of thousands of dollars a pop would also have the acumen to notice that some aspects of their caper just don't add up. Maybe they're just flawed movie characters, or maybe they're seduced by the rush of their big score and the dazzle of the Vegas lifestyle. That's what the filmmakers are counting on, anyway, as they take a pass on character development in favor of fluttery Vegas montages of cards, lights, money, and pretty, young faces in thrall to the gods of self-made fortunes and striking it rich. Adapted from Ben Mezrich's true account of similar events, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, the film is more interested in the artifice and the hustle than in the "true story" aspects and reasons why a Harvard Medical School admittee, who professes that he's only in it for the $300,000 needed to finance his education, just doesn't apply for a student loan like everybody else. In addition to the gaps in the screenplay by Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb, director Luketic (Monster-in-Law, Legally Blonde) has a plodding approach to the events that make the movie feel like a good 20 minutes could disappear and only affect 21 for the better. Problems start at the very beginning, when the film opens clumsily with two separate framing episodes that are returned to later in the film. Sturgess, who was so delicious as the John Lennon manque in Across the Universe also stands out here as Ben Campbell, the aforementioned pre-med M.I.T. whiz who becomes the cock of the casinos. Spacey, whose Trigger Street Productions is one of the film's producers, digs into his role as the story's snarky mastermind and lure, yet it's all the kind of stuff we've seen him deliver in so many movies before. Fishburne, too, is interesting as the casino security capo, and is the only character here who has some backstory to build a character with. 21 shares with the Las Vegas mythos the same stale temptations: empty glitz and little substance.
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