During the 1990s, a group of students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a killing at the blackjack tables of Las Vegas using little more than basic math, coded signals and home-spun disguises. And it was all completely legal.
In Robert Luketic's (Legally Blonde, Monster-In-Law) adaptation of this stranger than fiction tale, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is drawn into the intricate card counting scheme set up by Professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) who brings together his best and the brightest students to make the con work.
Unfortunately, Luketic's emphasis on the coming-of-age of Campbell – science geek turned high roller - rather than the scam, turns what should be an enjoyable, fast paced film into hard work.
Cardboard characters in the secondary roles, heavy-handed direction – yes we get that Boston is dull and Vegas is exciting - and irritating use of voice over only adds to the viewers desire to get this over and done with and please, just get to the good stuff. But it isn't until the last act that things start to get interesting with Campbell finally showing some depth as he realises the impact of his dual existence. The juxtaposition of manipulative teacher and naïve student leads to the inevitable showdown and finally we're routing for our hero to get his revenge.
A bog standard script is redeemed only by Spacey's portrayal of the slimey college professor (just call me Mickey), who tries his best to inject some energy. But he isn't exactly stretched and nor is Laurence Fishburne as the 'loss prevention' enforcer coming to terms with his impending retirement and obsession with the one that got away.
As a result, you feel like you've seen it all before. Even with this ready-made plot and a backdrop which oozes glamour and duplicity, 21 fails to impress. A gamble that doesn't quite pay off.