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Watch the movie and then head straight to the casinos.
Kevin Spacey Stars in "21."
OPENING WEEKEND: $18,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $68,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

December 3rd, 2007: "21" is the fact-based story about six MIT students who were trained to become experts in card counting and subsequently took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings.

What to Expect: Everyone who has ever played cards, whether it is something as simple as solitaire on your computer or as serious as high stakes blackjack in Vegas, must have developed some card counting techniques. You may not realize that you are actually doing it, but if you are any good at the game then decisions you make are often based on the cards you have seen already played. These strategies have obviously worked over time to varying degrees and have made you a better card player or else you would not be using them. You probably developed these strategies by accident or with minimal effort. Now imagine what you can do if you approached this a little more systematically. Or perhaps even put together a team of the brightest math students in the country to formulate count counting techniques. Well, that is exactly what several MIT students did when they banded together with Harvard graduate Bill Kaplan to create the MIT blackjack team. They spent the next two decades perfecting their craft while their legend grew. Their exploits have been documented in numerous news stories, a History Channel special, a best selling novel: "Bringing Down the House," and now a major Hollywood movie called 21. This new film will be based on the novel which is very loosely based on the actual exploits of the team. Although the characters and some events in the story are embellished to make the movie more entertaining, many of it is still factual. The result should be an extremely entertaining underdog story where you can't help cheer for the young students as they take on the all powerful casinos using nothing but the heads on their shoulders.

Article continues below

This movie is definitely about playing cards, but what makes this story so interesting is the success the team enjoyed and the problems that came with that success. The reason the team chose blackjack is because when played properly, you usually have about a 49% chance of beating the house, pretty good for a casino game. Then with the techniques that the team employs, they are able to raise those odds to somewhere between 50 and 53 percent, thus guaranteeing a substantial profit over many games. Obviously, the casinos did not like when their guests have the advantage and did everything possible to stop the team. Even though the techniques employed by the team are not illegal, since they only use their minds, the casinos can still ban the players. Therefore, the teams were forced to use a variety of disguises and to rotate their members often to avoid being discovered. To make life difficult for the team, the casinos, with their seemingly limitless resources, spent countless hours trying to stop them, even going as far as hiring private investigators and spies to discover the identities of the teammates before they could do any damage. This cat and mouse game made life a whole lot more difficult for the players and the story so much more entertaining. The second problem that came with their success is ego. The team, at its height, had a bank roll of a million dollars and you know when that much money is involved greed will come into play. As a result these young students became corrupted and ended up bickering over money, strategy and direction, causing the team to split up on numerous occasions. This dynamic elevates the movie from just a simple con story into a study in human nature and growing up. All the adversity that the team faced as well as their unprecedented success is what attracted the Hollywood elite to this project such as Kevin Spacey and Brett Ratner (Rush Hour).

Spacey first bought the option on the screenplay in 2002 after reading an excerpt from the book in Playboy magazine. Apparently, he was drawn to the project because he is a huge blackjack enthusiast and felt the story was good enough to appeal to the general public. The script laid dormant until MGM agreed to back it in 2004. Spacey decided to star in the movie as Mickey Rosa the team organizer as well as produce the project. He quickly recruited his friend Ratner to help him produce and direct the film. They hired Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb to adopt the book into a screenplay. The production then hit the first of many problems. In reality, the majority of the team was comprised of Asian males, making the story not very marketable. So the writers decided to "Hollywood" up the screenplay by changing the majority of the team to be white males and females, leaving only two unimportant members as Asian. This drew criticism from former members of the team, the Asian community and the novel's author, Ben Mezrich, but the writers were not done yet. They then decided to spice up the story a little more by adding a love aspect, greatly deviating from reality and the book. By the time the script was complete, the film had received a ton of bad press and started to face schedule difficulties, due to the many delays. To compound the troubles, Ratner left for greener pastures to direct X-Men 3 and the project was left without a director. The producers briefly flirted with Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) before finally signing Robert Luketic. Luketic is a very strange choice since he is better known for doing chick flicks like Legally Blonde and Monster-in-Law rather than actual dramas like this, but surprisingly he did a pretty good job. Luketic and Spacey first acquired the rights to the movie title "21," giving their movie a name. Then they turned their attention to casting. First they signed Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) to star as Ben Campbell, the head of the team. This is going to be the first major big screen role for the young British actor but of all the talent around him should provide a nice crutch. Luketic then went out and cast Laurence Fishburne as Campbell's nemesis, the casino security consultant charged with stopping the team. To give the movie a female appeal, Kate Bosworth was cast as Jill Taylor, a card player as well as Campbell's love interest. Bosworth is very familiar with both Spacey and Luketic having worked with Spacey twice before on Beyond the Sea and Superman Returns and Luketic on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. Finally, to give the movie some authenticity, Spacey recruited actual former members of the team: Jeffrey M. Ka, who the character of Campbell is actually based on and Bill Kaplan, one of the originals. The two not only consulted but are both extras in the movie as dealers. Look for Kaplan to be the dealer in the Chinese card house seen and Ka as a Vegas dealer. With the cast complete, the crew packed their bags and went to Vegas to film. Ironically, the same casinos that spent so much time trying to keep the team out, welcomed the film crew with open arms. Everyone had a blast filming in sin city and Spacey, Luketic and some of the other cast members spent countless hours "researching" at the blackjack tables. Time flew in Vegas until everyone had to cross the US and film in Massachusetts for the college scenes. Unfortunately, MIT was not as accommodating. The administrators of the university refused to allow the crew to film on campus because they feared it would distract the students from academics. Fortunately, Boston University, which is just across the river, was much more obliging. They allowed all the college scenes to be filmed on campus fulfilling their dream to be MIT, even if just in a movie. All the filming was wrapped very quickly and efficiently.

In Conclusion: Now for the big question, will this be a good movie? On the one hand, they are armed with an intriguing story and a good cast which includes one the best actors in the business in Spacey. On the other hand, the story has been greatly changed to be more marketable, features an inexperienced star in Sturgess as well as a starlet, Bosworth, and director, Luketic, who have made their living doing love stories. Fortunately, I think the good should outweigh the bad in this case. As long as the movie manages to maintain a good, fun pace and not focus too much on the love story then we should have a pretty good movie on our hands. So if you like fun con films like Ocean's Eleven and the Sting, then this should be one you will enjoy as well.

Similar Titles: The Sting, Ocean's Eleven, Casino
March 28th, 2008 (wide)
July 22nd, 2008 (DVD)

Columbia Pictures

Robert Luketic

Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Liza Lapira, Josh Gad, Masi Oka, Sam Golzari

Total: 64 vote(s).


Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity.

122 min





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