Monday, 16 March 2009

21

Lowdown: Good Will Hunting goes gambling.
Review:
Once upon a time there was an actor called Kevin Spacey who gave performances of a lifetime in two supporting roles, one with Se7en and another with The Usual Suspects. Since then, with a few notable exceptions, the guy has mostly fumbled his way through riding on past glory. This is exactly the case in 21.
21 tells the story of a bright student at MIT, played by Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe notoriety. Unlike Good Will Hunting, a former MIT colleague, he is a full time student there. Like Will, however, he has a tough time making ends meet. His trouble seems to be over when he bumps into a university professor (Spacey) who leads this gang of smart students that go together on Las Vegas ventures in order to play 21. Being that these guys are smart, they have developed this team work methodology for counting cards; when done right it brings the odds in their favor, enabling to clean the house down.
Quickly enough Sturgess becomes the main gang member. From a decent guy focusing on his studies and friends he becomes addicted to gambling more and more (and to this cool chick in his gambling group). On his way down [to Las Vegas] he forgets about his old world, but how long can that last? Not too long if you were to ask Laurence Fishburne, an old style private detective who works for the casinos and breaks the bones of cheaters for dessert.
Although potentially exciting, watching 21 is more like watching a farce. It is so very mundane, mostly because (1) it uses every cliche in the book and (2) it uses dramatic effects to hide the flaws in its logic and (3) it is SO predictable it's not funny. Come on, we all know Laurence Fishburne cannot be all bad (and that's just one example).
The result is that 21 becomes interesting to watch just because you're wondering how low it can go, but given the unfathomable depths it goes to the answer is a rather disappointing one.
Worst scene:
I think the best way to explain what I'm talking about is to provide an example that won't ruin too much of the plot.
When Sturgess first meets Spacey, it's in Spacey's class for non linear equations. Spacey's take on non linear equations does not have much to do with math but seems more like a history lesson, probably because math would not pass with the movie crowds; history, however, does not pass credibility wise.
Spacey asks a historical question and Sturgess answers. Then, in order to check Sturgess' mettle, Spacey asks him the Monty Hall Problem; which is nice, but has nothing to do with non linear equations. The Monty Hall Problem is a question of probabilities, and it's so famous that even I know about it; suffice it to say that one cannot judge an MIT student based on that, and that a professor would be deemed an idiot for straying so much from the subject at hand. He might as well have asked Sturgess to show him where Africa is on the map.
In short, in order to constantly impress its crowd of viewers, 21 does not hesitate to cross credibility and believability borders. Do note the above example is one of the more sophisticated ones; for the more benign, just check the way Sturgess accepts a life of crime all too easily (Note counting cards at a casino is not a crime; it just annoys the hell out of the casino. I'm referring to other stuff here).
Technical assessment: This is a high quality Blu-ray with some excellent aggressive sound through the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Pity the sound is used to camouflage the stupid things taking place on the screen.
Overall: Yet another poor effort for the Sturgess camp. When people talk about the fallacies of American cinema, they're talking about crap like 21. 2 out of 5 stars.

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