21 (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity.
Length: 123 minutes
Grade: DCDC=D+
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $ million ($81 US, $75 Intl, $ DVD)

Written by: Ben Mezrich, based on his book “Bringing Down the House”
Directed by: Robert Luketic, who made Monster-in-Law, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, and Legally Blonde. So, it’s a bit of a departure for him.
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts, and Laurence Fishburne.

Ben Campbell is a brilliant MIT mathematician on his way to Harvard Med School, which he can’t afford. Since his chances of earning a full ride are slim, he agrees when one of his MIT professors recruits him to play blackjack in Vegas with a team of other students.

Entertainment Value: D
I was frustrated throughout this movie, mostly because I expected so much more from it. I was very excited to watch it because I’ve generally enjoyed both Kevin Space movies and movies about gambling, especially Rounders, the classic. Unfortunately, this was awful. It was implausible at every turn, and nothing about the movie drew me in to make me sympathize with the characters. An average episode of Las Vegas is both shorter and more entertaining. For one thing, some guy is a super-genius MIT/Harvard whiz kid and he keeps $300,000 in his dorm room drop ceiling? Ever heard of a safe deposit box?

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality C, Violence C, Language C, Illegality B
It’s a movie about Vegas, right? Strip clubs, although without nudity, a sex scene, and discussions about such things. Alcohol all over the place, including drunkenness. The violence is people getting beat up pretty badly. And the language is perfect for PG-13.

Significant Content: D
Lying is okay so long as you believe you’re right. Manipulating a system is okay so long as you want to make money. Gambling is dangerous, but if you’re smart enough you can figure it out. Pride is a very dangerous thing. Betrayal is bad. Friends are good. And Las Vegas is a great place to have all the fun that life can bring you.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The camera work was actually quite interesting, with novel shots and angles. On the other hand, why would a movie about counting cards in Blackjack actually explain the rules of Blackjack but not really explain the concept of counting cards to its audience? If what they’re doing isn’t illegal, then why go to such lengths to do it without being caught?

Discussion Questions:
~Denial is what psychologists call it when people ignore obvious truths because they are inconvenient or incompatible with something else the person wants to believe. Can you name any examples of denial in this movie?
~Does counting cards seem immoral to you? Is it immoral because it makes the player capable of beating the game? If guaranteed results make it immoral, then would you also say that casinos are immoral because they are guaranteed to make money? Is gambling in itself immoral? Can something be immoral even if it’s legal?
~Have you ever neglected an important friendship because you started hanging around with other people? Did you ever go back and make amends?
~Anonymity is the marketing technique for Las Vegas. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” What are the pitfalls of anonymity? What do you think of the idea that “What happens in Vegas stays in God’s memory for eternity?”
Overall Grade: D+
It’s a badly made pro-Vegas movie about how you can always get ahead if only you’re smart enough.

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